76ers

Sixers must clean up problems with pick-and-roll defense before playoffs

Sixers must clean up problems with pick-and-roll defense before playoffs

The Sixers need to clean up their pick-and-roll defense, and with eight games to go before the playoffs, they don’t have a ton of time to do it. 

Communication is still an understandable issue on occasion for “Sixers 3.0,” and it’s most noticeable in pick-and-roll coverage. Tobias Harris and James Ennis successfully execute a switch on the pick-and-roll below between Taurean Prince and Dewayne Dedmon. But when Prince changes direction, their switch back is not nearly sharp enough, resulting in a dunk for Dedmon.

JJ Redick looks like he’s going to fight through John Collins’ screen and stick with Trae Young on this play, but he makes a late decision to switch onto the rolling Collins. Jimmy Butler doesn’t appear to get the message in time.

The most concerning, frequent problem is the Sixers switching far more often than they’d prefer because the ball handler’s man gets caught on top of, behind, or under the screen.

That leaves the Sixers with matchups like Joel Embiid on Evan Fournier. 

And Boban Marjanovic on D.J. Augustin.

These sort of switches tend to lead to good looks, even when offenses don’t immediately go at the original mismatch. Notice how Marjanovic finishes this play out behind the three-point line on the right side of the floor, leaving no help at the rim after Fournier beats Mike Scott on the drive.

The above examples can’t be blamed on scheme — they’re all about the ball handler’s defender initially getting beat and putting the Sixers in a position where they have no choice but to switch. 

Marjanovic, though an efficient offensive player and solid rim protector in certain situations, has been picked on often in pick-and-roll situations.

He drops back to help Shake Milton on this play, blocking Augustin’s path to the rim. Marjanovic then winds up in no man’s land, hanging around in the paint. With everyone switching and scrambling around, Marjanovic eventually realizes Terrence Ross is open behind the arc. He asks Milton to jump out to Ross and let him switch back onto Nikola Vucevic far too late. 

In Atlanta, Marjanovic again made a solid play on the initial action to cover for his teammates. Scott and T.J. McConnell both dart toward the middle on Young’s pick-and-roll with Collins, which compels Marjanovic to step back and stop Young from finding Collins on the roll. Unfortunately, Dedmon is trailing the play, and the thought of the biggest player in the NBA sprinting out from the lane to contest his shot is just not realistic. 

Though Marjanovic may be especially slow-footed, the fundamental problem of big men getting pulled away from the rim because of a perimeter player’s subpar defense isn’t exclusive to him. It’s difficult to imagine the Sixers making a run to the NBA Finals without a collective improvement on that simple, central assignment of staying with your man.

They’ve also struggled with slightly more complex actions, like the “Spain pick-and-roll” Orlando used several times. Harris switches onto Fournier after Butler falls a step behind, which isn’t an issue on the surface — Harris can hang with Fournier much better than someone like Marjanovic or Embiid. But the Magic then have Aaron Gordon set a back screen and pop out behind the arc. Jonah Bolden picks up the rolling Vucevic, but nobody takes Gordon.

The Sixers’ drop coverage has been burned plenty this season by guards like D’Angelo Russell and Collin Sexton knocking down a bunch of long two-point shots. Still, the big man dropping off and giving the ball handler’s defender time to recover and stick with his man is preferable to matchups like Augustin vs. Marjanovic. You can live with a guard attempting a long two or a big man taking a contested three, as Vucevic does here.

What you can’t live with is the ball handler’s man getting beat time after time, forcing constant switching and allowing the defense to systematically attack your weaknesses.

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Sixers vs. Detroit Pistons preseason: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Detroit Pistons preseason: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Updated: 5:48 p.m. — Andre Drummond (rest) is not playing tonight.

The Sixers are back home and back on NBC Sports Philadelphia tonight.

Below are the essentials for their preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. The Sixers are 3-0 in the preseason and Detroit is 2-1.

• When: 7 p.m. ET 
• Where: Wells Fargo Center 
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

Key Sixers out 

Last season, the Sixers were without Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler, two key bench players at the time, for opening night against the Celtics. They're determined to be fully healthy this year.

Ben Simmons (back tightness), James Ennis (right calf strain) and Al Horford (rest) are all out for tonight's game. The sensible, obvious goal for the Sixers is to have everyone fresh and ready to go next Wednesday vs. Boston.

All-Star forward Blake Griffin is out for the Pistons with left hamstring soreness.

The offense is humming 

General manager Elton Brand forecasted in July that the Sixers would be one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, but he thought it was "going to take some time" to figure things out on offense.

Through three preseason games, though, the offense has been excellent. The Sixers are first in the NBA in offensive rating (119.7), offensive rebounding percentage (35.4 percent) and assist to turnover ratio (1.69), and tied for first in assists per game (30.3). The caveats of having played their preseason opener against an inferior Chinese Basketball Association team and the sample size being minuscule are important, but the offense has performed very well so far. 

Embiid vs. Drummond, preseason edition 

Yes, it's just the preseason, but there's often drama when Joel Embiid and Pistons center Drummond match up. 

Just last season, the following happened: Drummond was ejected for an elbow to Embiid's face during the Pistons' overtime win vs. the Sixers on Oct. 23, and Embiid appeared to exaggerate the contact. Embiid told reporters after the game that he "owns a lot of real estate in [Drummond's] head," which led to the feud spiraling to social media. In their next meeting, on Nov. 3 at Wells Fargo Center, Embiid posted 39 points and 17 rebounds in a victory, then said of Drummond and then-Pistons backup center Zaza Pachulia, "I kicked both of their a--." 

The trash talk between the two dates further back than last season, too. When Embiid and Drummond share the floor, it's usually worth watching, and then listening to what the two have to say afterwards.

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Special Sixers Budweiser beer cans are coming this season

Special Sixers Budweiser beer cans are coming this season

If you ever wanted to drink a beer and show your Sixers fandom at the same time, there's now an easy way to do it — outside of sipping a beer and wearing a Ben Simmons jersey, screaming at the TV during a heated Sixers-Celtics game or insisting to your uncle's friend's friend that Joel Embiid is a much better player than Anthony Davis. 

The Sixers have partnered with Budweiser this season to release co-branded cans in the Philadelphia/South Jersey region. As you can see in the images below, courtesy of the Sixers, the cans are a classic red and blue, with a Sixers' logo in the middle of a basketball court outline, and "The City of Brotherly Love" in script near the top.

According to the Sixers, they're the ninth NBA team to be featured on a Budweiser can. A special 24-ounce edition will be released later in the season that will be offered in-game, plus anywhere 12-ounce Budweisers are sold in the area.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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