Dan Burke will look to improve to 2-0 as the Sixers’ acting head coach Monday night when his team faces the Rockets in Philadelphia.
Before that, though, he had a practice to run.
With head coach Doc Rivers still in COVID-19 protocols, Burke named “sweat” as one of his main priorities for Sunday’s early evening practice in Camden, New Jersey.
Danny Green, who’s cleared health and safety protocols after missing the last four games, appreciated the competitive approach.
“It’s tough to get up and down,” Green said, “but you have to with some guys that are still recovering from COVID, some where it’s still lingering. But it was good to get up and down, good to see guys get after each other and compete a little bit.”
Green said he only experienced “slight” COVID symptoms. Rivers “feels terrific,” according to Burke.
However, the Sixers still don’t have a clean injury report. Jaden Springer and Myles Powell were listed as out Sunday night because of health and safety protocols, while Matisse Thybulle was questionable. Thybulle is one of 10 Sixers players to have missed time already this season because of COVID protocols. One of the others, Tyler Johnson, is no longer with the team. His 10-day contract is up.
In addition to full-court action, Burke’s practice included a drill that he called “Hit the coach.” It involved assistant coaches crashing the glass and encouraged players to be physical.
“I was waiting to get my shot on Dan Burke,” Georges Niang joked, “but he didn’t get in there.”
Burke’s perspective on the Sixers’ rebounding issues was that of a veteran defensive assistant.
“I’ll start with get on the floor for some of them,” he said. “But I think most importantly, be more solid and don’t get beat (off the dribble). Once you get beat and you cause a scramble situation, now it’s hard to put bodies on bodies.
“If we limit rotations and we can control the ball first, execute that first help and not need a second or third help, it’s easier to box out. If you’re just flying around, you’re not going to get to bodies.”
The Sixers are 24th in defensive rebounding percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass.
They’ve also struggled both to generate extra possessions (last in offensive rebounding percentage) and play transition defense. Sixers opponents have added 3.4 points per 100 possessions through transition play (24th) and scored 14.4 fast-break points per game (28th). It’s a bad combination for a team that doesn’t play fast or commit many turnovers, two of the areas one would typically look when transition defense problems are present. Burke mentioned he wants Thybulle to attack the offensive glass, though he admitted he’s “scared to death” of the increased pressure that puts on the Sixers’ transition defense.
Niang described the practice as “meaningful” and credited Burke for his “calming presence” filling in for Rivers on Thursday in the Sixers’ win over the Nets.
He first met Burke as a sparsely used rookie on the 2016-17 Pacers, which he certainly remembers.
“Dan Burke does a lot of things behind the scenes and I’m not sure he gets enough recognition,” Niang said. “But I don’t think he cares either. I think more or less he’s just happy if the team’s winning, and he enjoys coming to work every day. A funny story: When I was with Dan Burke in Indiana — and it’s a moment I’ll never forget in my basketball career — I was a rookie, and you don’t know if you belong or anything like that. And Dan Burke kind of pulled me aside and had a film session with me.
“He could see I was insecure about where I was in my career. And after the film session … he put his arm around me and was like, ‘I believe in you and I think you can be a player in this league.’ Indiana cut me like four months later, but here I am back with him.
“But it’s one of those moments where I was at a low in my career. People never understand what they say to someone, how it can affect them, and that’s something that I always thought of when I was going through my struggles. At least I had one person that believed in me. And next thing you know, you have two. So he definitely has had a huge impact on my career without even knowing it and I’m sure, with how many years he’s coached in the NBA, he’s had a positive impact on a lot of people.”