After bad night in Brooklyn, Sixers know they're not 'amongst the royalty in the East'

After bad night in Brooklyn, Sixers know they're not 'amongst the royalty in the East'

Weird things tend to happen during an 82-game season. There are inevitably nights when nothing is falling from three-point range, when you can’t stop giving the ball away, when the opposition has 40 more field-goal attempts.

While Sunday’s 122-97 loss to the Nets in Brooklyn was, without a doubt, one of those odd, terrible nights for the Sixers, was it really an anomaly? 

Talking to reporters after the game, Brett Brown was honest about the state of his team, which is now 0-5 on the road and 6-0 at home.

To win on the road, you better not turn it over at the rate we’ve been turning it over. You better have an incredible focus on rebounding. Historically, those are the tenets of road wins — caring for the ball and finishing plays with rebounds. … I think that togetherness, that toughness, that ability to take punches and come out together on the other side, that is part of growth. We don’t have that right now.

We are not, right now at this present moment, amongst the royalty in the East, and we understand that. It’s a badge that we want. It’s in us. But at this moment, after 11 games, that’s not where we are. And that’s OK. This group does have fight, this group does have pride, and we will find a win to move on, move up, move forward, and that’s my job.

The Sixers are averaging 18.8 turnovers per game on the road, compared to 14.5 at home. They’re pulling down 47.6 rebounds a night away from the Wells Fargo Center, 51.5 at home. While those two areas stand out for Brown, there is, unsurprisingly, no major statistical category in which the Sixers are better on the road. 

The Raptors, Bucks and Sixers are the only teams undefeated at home in the Eastern Conference. And the basement-dwelling Cavaliers are the only other team in the East still winless away from home.

On the first day of training camp, Brown set the goal of an NBA Finals appearance. While he forecasted some growing pains over the first third of the season with the integration of Markelle Fultz into the starting lineup, the adjustment to assistant coach Billy Lange’s new defensive concepts, and the additions of Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler into the rotation, there’s no question he’d have expected the Sixers to have their first away win by this stage. 

His stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, expected much more of themselves as well (see story).

“I think we have to take it upon ourselves to really point it out,” Simmons said. “You’re either going to bring it or you’re not.”

Even if the Sixers’ effort is better moving forward than their anemic showing on Sunday, it seems unlikely that more intensity will be the solution for all their underlying issues. 

Fultz and Simmons have an 89.3 offensive rating in the 98 minutes in which they’ve shared the floor, the worst of any two-pairing with at least 47 minutes together on the team.

Though Dario Saric had his best shooting performance in the last few weeks against the Nets (3 for 6 night from the floor, 8 for 8 from the line) he still hasn’t had the breakthrough game the Sixers trust he eventually will.

Outside of Embiid, Simmons and Robert Covington (who quietly is tied for the league lead in steals and has the most deflections), the Sixers don’t have any strong individual defenders. That was also the case last season, when the team finished third in the NBA in defensive rating, but the lack of capable on-ball defenders has been glaring in this new, switch-heavy scheme.

At the end of the season, the Sixers still hope they’ll be the “royalty of the East,” with Sunday’s loss an early-season outlier. 

For now, even though it may be tempting to toss aside a defeat as ugly as Sunday’s, they know it wouldn’t be honest to just chalk it up as a bad night in Brooklyn. 

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Zhaire Smith promoting PUMA basketball with appearance in West Philly

Zhaire Smith promoting PUMA basketball with appearance in West Philly

In recent memory, PUMA has thrived as a lifestyle shoe.

But with Jay-Z as creative honcho of the team’s reinvigorated basketball division, things have changed. 

Sixers guard Zhaire Smith is one the many new faces of their basketball arm which includes DeMarcus Cousins, Terry Rozier and 2018 No.1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton, among others. In fact, Smith and Marvin Bagley III are the first two basketball players signed to PUMA since the best dunker in history signed with the brand in 1998. 

PUMA is ramping up their visibility in the sneaker community ahead of the NBA’s opening night later this month — many brands are doing the same — with athletes pumping their shoes through various appearances and interactions with fans.

You can catch Smith in West Philly this Saturday as he promotes the PUMA Clyde Hardwood shoe at the Footlocker & Puma Lab at 38 S. 52nd Street, near the corner of 52nd & Chestnut. You can challenge Smith to a game of NBA 2K and you can get a PUMA basketball with the purchase of one of the Clyde Hardwood kicks. 

Smith was one of the first to rock the Clyde Court Disrupt when they debuted last season after signing a mult-year deal with PUMA. Smith is expected to be at the 52nd street Foot Locker between 2-4 p.m. and he might be in an even better mood than normal since the Sixers picked up his option.

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Spoiler alert: Al Horford is a better teammate than film critic

Spoiler alert: Al Horford is a better teammate than film critic

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers’ most recent bonding experience was a screening of the movie Joker.

Don’t worry, no spoilers here.

Al Horford said he was “disappointed” by the critically acclaimed filmed about the DC comic book villain, but he was pleased with the experience being around his teammates.

While this might seem silly, it’s no small thing. JJ Redick mentioned on Zach Lowe’s podcast last month that he felt like the Sixers didn’t have enough team dinners. Those dinners on the road are often looked at as team bonding experiences.

Horford is easily the team’s most seasoned player at 33 years old and a veteran of 12 NBA seasons. He’s seen his fair share of changes and roster turnover now playing for his third team.

But it’s been two of the returning Sixers that have led the way when it comes to team bonding.

“I think the willingness of everyone trying to make that happen,” Horford said after practice Thursday. “Tobias [Harris] I think has been a big influence on all of us making sure that we're all getting together. Ben [Simmons] as well has taken that leadership role. So we're doing stuff — not all the time — but we're going to watch movies together, we're doing things as a team, as a group and that has been nice. I feel like those kind of things bring teams closer.”

It was Harris and Simmons who organized the Joker screening during the road trip in Charlotte and the paintball excursion a few weeks back before camp began.

And it’s not just the players that feel the chemistry growing. Their head coach has also seen the growth from the start of training camp until now.

“That they coexist well,” Brett Brown said when asked what he’s learned about his team. “That they seem to enjoy each other's company. That they have bought in in a significant way that we are a defensive-oriented team. That we are long — we can be disruptive. And there has been an unselfishness on the offensive end that hasn't been hard to extract. It's quite actually organic. The guys sort of think like that, which makes my job a lot easier.”

The idea that the Sixers will be a defensive-oriented team started with the way GM Elton Brand constructed his roster. Bringing in Horford and Josh Richardson to create a monstrous starting five is part of it. It’s also just having a bunch of players that have that mindset.

Both Embiid and Simmons have stated their goal is to win Defensive Player of the Year. Horford and Richardson have always been praised for their two-way play. Even Harris, who has shown signs of improvement on that end, went to Brown this offseason and told him he wasn’t going to be the weak link of the team defensively.

It’s quite a change from a team that took a huge step back defensively last season. Going into opening night against Boston next week, the Sixers want to be the best defensive team in the league.

“We know we certainly have the capability, but just guys giving multiple efforts gives me the sense we can be very special,” Horford said. “But it's one of those things that we have to be consistent with that every day in order to accomplish those goals, and we've been doing a good job of that. We just have to continue to do it.”

With just one more preseason game on the docket Friday night against the Wizards, there is certainly a vibe with the team of just wanting to prepare for next Wednesday. Brown admitted that he’s already begun his prep for the Celtics.

It’s an encouraging sign that his team appears to have come together so quickly but Brown knows none of that matters if it doesn’t translate to when the games count.

“I would say yes. I feel that if you looked at just the character of the people, I'd say no,” Brown said when asked if he was surprised with the team’s bonding. “But in general — and let's call it also what it is — we really haven't played legitimate, NBA basketball yet. …

“You roll into Wells Fargo against the Celtics on opening night, the rules change in significant ways. And that's when we're all going to have more meaningful conversations about like, 'Where are we at? What have I learned? Have they come together quickly and why?' It gets far more scrutinized when it's that type of environment than it does right now.”

Hopefully Horford enjoys his team’s performance on opening night more than he did Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal as the Crown Prince of Crime.

“Oh, a lot of the guys liked it,” Horford said. “I thought it was going to be different. I thought it was going to be more action. So it was one of those things, I was a little disappointed.”

Spoiler alert: Al Horford is a better teammate and basketball player than film critic.

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