76ers

Sixers pleased to be finished playing Hawks this season

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Sixers pleased to be finished playing Hawks this season

There are some teams that just present a bad night for the Sixers no matter the circumstances. Call it a bad matchup or a perfect storm or whatever, some teams just can’t lose against certain opponents.

Every year, one team stands out as the proverbial thorn in the Sixers’ sides. For instance, a few years back the Sixers never had a chance against the Miami Heat. Sure, the Heat had LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, but the Sixers went 0-15 over four straight regular seasons and 1-4 in a playoff series against the Heat.

Though the Sixers aren’t on a 1-19 skid against the Atlanta Hawks, they may as well be this season. In three games against Atlanta in 2015-16, the Sixers lost by 21 points on the road in December, by 28 points last month and by 38 points on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

That’s an average of 29 points per game.

“It sure feels like this one is not [a good matchup],” coach Brett Brown said after Wednesday's 124-86 loss to the Hawks (see game recap). “The numbers kind of bear that out. We don’t have many answers for them.”

Strangely, the ugly game came after the Sixers turned in their most exciting effort of the season in the last-second loss to the defending world champion Golden State Warriors.

How could such a great effort be followed by such a debacle?

“I would have to go back and look at the film because I really don’t know,” Ish Smith said. “They played good defensively and we threw the ball all over the gym. That’s attributed to me. You have to bring it every night. I feel like it starts with me, and I had one too many turnovers. It kind of sets the tone. They did a great job and we turned the ball over a lot today.”

Turnovers told much of the story of Wednesday’s loss, but not all of it. It would be bad enough if the Sixers were getting whipped on the scoreboard, but that’s the least of the troubles. The Sixers are getting whipped by the Hawks all over the place. In three games against the Hawks this season, the Sixers have committed 68 turnovers, including 24 in Wednesday’s loss. They also shot a combined 11 for 45 from three-point range in the last two losses.

Meanwhile, the Hawks shot 55.3 percent from the field against the Sixers in the three games and have the second-, third- and fourth-highest scoring games against the Sixers this season.

All of this wouldn’t be so troubling if Brown didn’t make it a point to warn his players about the two previous losses against the Hawks. In the days leading up to Wednesday’s game, Brown showed the Sixers edited game film of all the rough moments in the two previous games against the Hawks.

And two hours before Wednesday’s debacle, Brown gave an encore showing of the bad moments just to drive the point home.

Apparently, the Sixers wanted to show Brown they could do worse.

“I feel like we didn’t come out with a lot of energy on both sides of the ball,” Brown said. “I don’t think anyone played that well. I feel like it carried over. We got it to 11, Nerlens (Noel) was in foul trouble, and so we ended up taking him out and putting in Carl Landry towards the end of the third. As a group, we did not have much tonight.”

The only team the Sixers have fared worse against is the Spurs. Not only did the Sixers take a 51-point loss at home against the Spurs this season, but they also haven’t won against Brown’s former team in six seasons.

Sixers 'counting on' Shake Milton, but does he replace Al Horford as a starter?

Sixers 'counting on' Shake Milton, but does he replace Al Horford as a starter?

Over the course of seven seasons here, Brett Brown has turned to several colorful phrases to explain his thinking. “Horses for courses,” said in his Bostralian accent, is a go-to one.

The basic premise of the expression is putting the right players in the right environment to succeed based on the matchup and personnel surrounding them. Over the course of the year, Al Horford’s fit offensively in the starting lineup hasn’t quite fit that sentiment. 

While Brown has seemed hellbent on making Horford a part of the starting lineup, he admitted in a video conference call with reporters Wednesday that the offensive fit of his starters has been “clunky.”

Part of that, Brown said, is the circumstances with the team this season.

“I do feel like the design of our team is challenging, for sure,” Brown said. “Do I think it’s built for the playoffs? Yes, I do. Do we have enough runway to pull something special off? Yes, we do. None of us can dismiss 19 out of 65 games you’ve got your starters — that’s just a real number. Ten brand new players out of 15 — that’s a real number.”

While Brown was adamant that he still believes in his team and the roster GM Elton Brand assembled, he offered that things on the offensive end could be better.

A game Brown has referenced more than once as the best version of his team is the Feb. 11 win over the Clippers. In that game, Horford came off the bench and played an important role in the victory. 

When Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid got hurt, Horford was inserted back into the starting lineup and took advantage of the opportunity. In the six games before play was suspended, Horford averaged 15.8 points, nine rebounds and 6.2 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field and 48.1 percent from three.

So, what will Horford’s role be when/if play resumes?

It’s a big one. It’s a huge question,” Brown said. “My thought process is quite simple. I’m going to go into camp and I’m going to see stuff and feel stuff, you’ve got some preconceived ideas, obviously. I feel like whatever we thought leaving the season and now what am I going to see as we come back and we sort of haven’t played basketball in three months and the fitness and all that type of thing. I’m going to go into the three weeks and figure it out. 

“I think it’s true that we’ve learned some of the things that either don’t work and you’re really in your head and you’re heart, I don’t care how much time we have, that’s probably going to be tough to pull off vs. we need to do a little bit better, I need to do a little bit better. In relation to stamping off on, ‘Here it is, this is what’s going to happen,’ I’m not doing that.

Another player that stepped up when injuries hit was Shake Milton. Aside from his 39-point outburst in L.A., Milton was proving to be a reliable player that featured a different skill set than most players on the roster.

Over Milton’s last nine games, he averaged 19.4 points and shot a ridiculous 60.5 percent on 5.4 attempts from three a game. While you can’t expect Milton to keep up that torrid pace, his ability as a ball handler and shot maker could be crucial.

While Milton did the bulk of his damage while Simmons was down, the pairing seems like a logical one going forward. Brown has spoken at length about unlocking Simmons’ ability as a screener and roller, at one point comparing Simmons to Blake Griffin in that regard. Milton excels at running the pick-and-roll and his ability to shoot makes the action a difficult cover.

I’m excited because I’m counting on him to continue on,” Brown said of Milton. “I don’t believe that what we saw is that much of an outlier. To think that he’s going to perform at that consistent level that he showed prior to the pandemic would be sort of ambitious. I do think that if he can capture the large majority of the form offensively and defensively — and obviously the shooting percentage is a huge part of that — if he can capture a large portion of what we saw, he really has a chance to come in and play a significant role in a rotation capacity in the playoffs.

If Brown knows which way he’s going with his starting lineup, he didn’t give much away. Does Horford’s fit fall into the category of “we need to do a little bit better” or will it prove to be a “that’s probably going to be tough to pull off” situation where Brown turns to Milton?

Age and experience are factors. Milton is just 23 and has played 52 NBA games with no playoff experience. We all know Horford’s resume and have seen firsthand what he’s done in the postseason.

But the diversity, versatility and flexibility Milton adds to the starting unit might outweigh that. And at that point, you get a playoff-proven big as your sixth man — albeit a handsomely paid one.

Brown has “preconceived ideas” about his rotation, but some of those might change once the team begins working out at Disney World.

“I hope to get as many as those questions out of the way in training camp,” Brown said. “I think my experience is that is an ambitious wish that oftentimes doesn’t happen as clearly as you had hoped. But in a perfect world, you’d like to go into those eight games that we’re speaking about and have some minor tweak and rotation changes as opposed to Game 5 and, ‘Oh, crap, we’ve got something that’s a little bit funky here.’”

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The 'jaw-dropping' education Brett Brown is receiving on racial injustice

The 'jaw-dropping' education Brett Brown is receiving on racial injustice

Brett Brown was eager on Wednesday to speak about the subject of racial injustice.

It’s a topic that has dominated recent conversations with his team, he said. 

“My last two Zoom calls with my team have had about 1 percent of basketball and 99 percent of all of the racial injustice circumstances we’re all living and breathing now,” Brown said in a video call with reporters. “That’s on my mind.”

According to Brown, the killing of 46-year-old Black man George Floyd on May 25 by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin jolted the NBA’s head coaches into action. 

“On May (25), George Floyd was murdered, and all of a sudden everybody starts to pay attention in a hyper-aware way — certainly in the United States, and we all see what’s happened around the world,” Brown said. “The Coaches Association got on the phone, 30 head NBA coaches.

"We tried to figure out quickly, what can we do to help? From those 30, it branched off into 11 people that formed a committee. I’m proud to be a part of that committee. I think we all have to give (Atlanta Hawks head coach) Lloyd Pierce, my old assistant coach, a lot of credit for driving this.”  

Brown recalled an extensive list of figures both he and the committee have met with to address racism and police brutality, including:

-DeRay McKesson, an activist who advocates for 8 Can’t Wait, a series of “policies that can reduce the harm caused by police in the short term.”
-Wally Adeyemo, the President of the Obama Foundation 
-Michael Smith, Executive Director of My Brother’s Keeper, an Obama Foundation alliance that aims to build “safe and supportive communities for boys and young men of color.”
-Pastor Mark Tyler, of Mother Bethel AME Church and a member of POWER 
-Former Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson 
-Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw 
-Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey
-Bryan Ramsey, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative 

That is, of course, a lot of information and expertise to absorb over the course of approximately five weeks. And though Brown has been thinking about the Sixers’ second training camp and how to best position his team for success at Disney World when the NBA plans to resume in about a month, he’s determined to make racial justice a priority. He wants to learn more, to further fill his gaps in knowledge.

This thing that we’re talking about, for me, as a 59-year-old white man, has been just jaw-dropping in relation to being educated,” he said. “When we would go into Memphis and you’d go out of the (National Civil Rights Museum), I’d go out of that thing and turn to my team every single time and apologize. I was just ashamed. And so this thing here we’re living right now — all of us — is real. It is incredibly real with my team.

At the moment, Brown is unsure how exactly he and the Sixers should go about seeking positive change. For now, he’s valuing what his players have to say, and he believes they can make strategic progress in Orlando. Several Sixers protested in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing, including Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle and GM Elton Brand. 

“What the league has decided to do in Orlando and some of the things that are now going on with Black Lives Matter, I look forward to getting into Orlando and looking at my guys,” Brown said, “and trying to figure out, what’s our path? What can we do as a team? How about Philly? When you really dig in, what’s going on in Philly where we can maybe make a difference? 

“As I said, I do not walk in my players’ shoes, but I do know a good heart. I do know right and wrong. And I hope in the role I have to lead as best I can. How that impacts and what it means as far as what the league does … I don’t know. But I do look forward very much to getting with my players and discussing this very real topic far more in-depth, and having the ability to see them.”

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