Game Preview | As Stakes Rise, Brown Keeps Focus Directed Inward

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Scene Setter:

Tearing through the middle stages of a marathon season, a young team has shown its teeth, demonstrating just how capable it is of stringing together a sustained stretch of success.

Now, after hitting a bump in the road, the question becomes how quickly can the group get back on the saddle, and reclaim its winning form.

With mostly sunny skies and 80 degree temperatures serving as the backdrop, the 76ers find themselves confronted with another crucial Eastern Conference match-up on their hands, a Tuesday stop at Miami.

On the heels of coming up short in Sunday’s battle for fourth place against Washington, the Sixers will take the floor at American Airlines Arena with a 2.0 game lead on the Heat for the seventh seed in the East. Underlying the significance of Tuesday’s tilt is that with a victory, the Sixers will clinch a potential tiebreaker between the clubs by winning their four-game season series.

For as natural and compelling as it is for those of us on the outside to scoreboard watch, and check the standings daily (heck, maybe even more) this time of year, Brett Brown has chosen to turn his focus increasingly inward.

Rather than get caught up with and consumed by the post-season implications of each and every game the Sixers play, Brown is doing whatever he can and thinking as much as he can about how to best refine his team.

“We want to just play a lot better, a lot longer,” the fifth-year head coach said over the weekend.

And by “longer,” Brown wasn’t necessarily referring to extending the season beyond April 11th, the date of the Sixers’ finale. That, of course, is the ultimately goal, but to achieve it, Brown believes the Sixers have to be more consistent in 48-minute bursts.

Yes, the Sixers, by all accounts, have been excellent defensively since the season began, currently owning the NBA’s fourth-best defensive rating, at 102.9 points allowed per 100 possessions. Ranked fifth in the league in pace (101.52 possessions per game), they play a fast brand of basketball, too, both end-to-end, and in the half court. The Sixers also have passed the ball with elite efficiency, their 64.6 assist percentage second-best overall.

In spite of the Sixers’ surge over the past two months, Brown remains in tune to reminders of the work that still needs to be done. There have been the recent first halves in come-from-behind wins over Miami and Chicago, and then, on Tuesday, the loss to Washington.

Having helped San Antonio to the post-season in each of his 12 years as an assistant, Brown is no stranger to this time of year, and has acquired a deep sense of how to approach it.

“There’s a whole different thing around the corner,” said Brown. “The playoffs, beating somebody four times [in a best-of-seven game series], and playing them in that dense of a’s different than going into Washington, then Miami. It’s really different. Your greatest weakness gets exposed. There’s no secrets”

So, Brown and his staff are determined to “get ahead of the story.”

They want to make sure they’ve taken stock of all the different ways opponents might double-team Joel Embiid, or guard Ben Simmons. They want the Sixers’ low-minute reserves in shape, fresh, and ready to contribute at a moment’s notice. They also want strategic contingencies in place and rehearsed in order to navigate pressure-packed, high-stakes circumstances.

“Whatever equals time, score, situations is what’s most on my mind,” Brown said. “That will be the separation of winning or losing in the playoffs.”

Brown likes what the Sixers have been, but, with 25 games to go, he feels the team can use the final month and a half of the 2017-2018 campaign to become an even stronger version of itself.

“I am so proud of the identity that we have,” he said. “It’s not like we come into this thing [saying], ‘Who are we?’

“There’s no mystery about how I want to coach this team, or how I want to play, especially in this city.”

The formula has served the Sixers well so far. A couple of enhancements, and Brown thinks the results can be that much better.

Opponent Outlook:

:: Don’t write the Miami Heat have cooled…::

:: Don’t write the Miami Heat have cooled…::

:: Don’t write the Miami Heat have cooled…::

Strive as we might to avoid the cliche, the truth can be found in Miami’s results from the past month and a half. After putting together a seven-game win streak to start January, the Heat have gone 6-12, with eight of those losses coming in their last 10 outings. They got back in the win column Saturday with a victory over Memphis, 115-89, which coincided with the start of a five-game homestand.

On Tuesday, the Sixers will be looking to clinch their first season series versus Miami since the 2007-2008 season. They dropped the Heat 103-97 on February 2nd, then again in a 24-point come-from-behind triumph on February 14th, 104-102. Dwyane Wade has averaged 8.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in five outings off the bench for Miaim since being reacquired at the trade deadline.  

Follow Along:

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