During his media availabilities from Disney World, Brett Brown has been tugging at Sixers fans’ heartstrings.
If there were a bingo card for all the things that need to happen for the Sixers to go on a successful playoff run, Brown has called out just about every spot on the board.
Joel Embiid? He’s in great shape. Ben Simmons? He’s shooting a bunch of threes in practice. Changing the starting lineup? Early on in practice, Shake Milton is your starting point guard. Running more pick-and-roll? It’s “pointing in that direction."
But the Sixers were a team with high expectations going into the season that did little to quell the excitement surrounding them. Brown talked about the potential of his team being the East’s top seed. It seemed like every player that spoke at media day had championship aspirations.
Instead, they disappointed through 65 games. They’re the sixth seed in the East thanks to issues with fit, injury, inconsistency and inconceivable road woes.
With so much pressure presumably on this playoff run after that ill-fated start, Brown and the Sixers have left themselves little to no wiggle room. For better or worse, Brown is all in on his team.
We’ve heard from multiple people — including Embiid himself — that the All-Star center was working out six days a week to be in shape for the NBA’s return. As we’ve seen over the course of his young career, Embiid has tended to come back out of shape after long layoffs. He’s even admitted to that being an issue.
Brown has continually stressed that he needed his players to come into camp in good shape and he’d be able to get them into great shape. In sharing his overall satisfaction with his team’s fitness level, not only did he address Embiid’s conditioning unprompted, but he gave his big man glowing marks.
“I’m happy with their conditioning,” Brown said on Sunday. “I thought Joel especially stood out.”
When asked on Tuesday if he still planned to play Embiid around 38 minutes a game in the playoffs like he said in May, Brown didn’t shy away from that.
“I don’t know what footage is coming out of our practices,” Brown said, “but I will tell you when we got up and down and you watch Joel move and you watch him run, there is zero doubt that he would’ve had to put in a lot of time to arrive into Orlando in the shape that he’s arrived. …
“I hope to play him — we’re talking NBA playoffs — I hope I can keep him somewhere in that range. Thirty-eight is probably ambitious, but I said it, I’ll own it, I stand by it and I think that his fitness base can only improve and the base that he has come in with is much noted and respected.”
The other big question mark for the Sixers continues to be Simmons and his jump shot. Simmons has only added more fuel to that fire by sharing a video on his YouTube channel of him cryptically hinting at him shooting more in Orlando. Earlier in the day, the team’s Twitter account did more to tease that potentially happening.
After all that, you’d think maybe Brown would want to temper expectations. He’s had multiple quotes about Simmons shooting come back to bite him, most notably saying he wanted Simmons to shoot at least one three a game back in December.
But instead, he hopped right on the hype train.
“His three-point shot is looking good,” Brown said Thursday. “He’s shot more threes in practice the last few days than he might’ve for almost half a season. And he looks good, he feels good, and I know he’s getting tremendous encouragement from his teammates.”
Part of this is Brown’s personality. He’s a genuinely positive person. I mean I guess you’d have to be to endure 199 losses in your first three seasons, a host of freak injuries and three GMs — four if you include his own brief stint — in seven years.
That’s why he was so brazen in saying he wanted the No. 1 seed. That’s why he was so unabashed in saying that his team was going to play “bully ball defense and smash mouth offense” before the season. He believes in his players and, like he’s said on several occasions, he doesn’t coach scared.
At this point, there’s a ton of pressure on Brown and his team. If Embiid is in shape and Simmons successfully expands his game and the adjustments Brown has made work, this team has the talent to do something special.
If it doesn’t come together the way Brown envisions it, well ...
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