Brett Brown has one numerical goal this season: He wants the Sixers to finish in the top 15 in NBA defensive ranking.
A 141-118 loss to the Nets on Tuesday didn't exactly boost their place in the standings (see Instant Replay). The Sixers entered the game ranked 14th in defensive rating and dropped to 17th after the loss.
"That resonates," Brown said of the Sixers' defense. "That's what's as much on my mind as anything. I really want the group to attain that goal because we've talked about it, they've drilled at it, they've worked at it, they care. To poke ourselves in the eye this late in the year is a real sour taste in my mouth.”
The Sixers gave up 40 points in the first quarter and 81 points by halftime. The Nets finished the game shooting 64 percent from the field and 51.6 percent from three (see feature highlight).
The Nets' first-half point total, game total and first-half three-pointers (12) set a record by any team at the Wells Fargo Center. A loss like this stung the Sixers even more because it was on their home court.
"Today our performance was under any NBA level," Dario Saric said. "I always try to talk honestly and I apologize to Philly fans."
This wasn't a Brook Lopez takeover. The Sixers were beat by a collaborative Nets' effort. Eight Nets players finished in double digits, Lopez and Jeremy Lin leading them with 16 apiece. The team shot efficiently overall; no player missed more than four field goals.
"We couldn't guard them individually," Brown said. "It wasn't a magic play. It wasn't extraordinary off-ball action. It was one-on-one."
Brown tried to squash the Nets' dominance at halftime. He delivered a message to the Sixers that he could not repeat to the media after the game. Richaun Holmes offered the Cliffs Notes version.
"One thing he always preaches is defense," Holmes said. "He was very upset with us. He got after us, which he should. That's not us. It's not something we can afford to have happen."
The Sixers' defense took a hit in the second half of this season. The team traded Nerlens Noel in February and lost Joel Embiid for the season in early March. Robert Covington also was shut down last week because of a slight tear of the lateral meniscus in his right knee (see story). Saric currently is on a 24-minute guideline designed to get him through the remaining games as he deals with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, according to Brown (see story).
"When you take away Nerlens and you take away Joel Embiid and you take away Covington, it's hard," Brown said of maintaining the defensive rating. "You just have to rely on your team concepts and do everything by committee. It's not like you can make mistakes and there's Nerlens and Joel at the rim to put that fire out."
The team is left piecing together defensive stops with four games remaining and a hobbled roster. The Sixers can redeem themselves on Thursday in front of their home crowd against the Bulls.
"I think this is, for us, some kind of lesson for next game to be ready, to try to play our best game this season, try to fight and try to win," Saric said. "We need to keep that in our minds. I think that's the only right way how we are supposed to play."