Game Preview | Back Home, Back to Business

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

CAMDEN - For one of the 76ers’ first orders of business back stateside following their three-day trip to London, Brett Brown rolled out for his group a morning PowerPoint presentation prior to the start of Sunday’s practice.

The subject?

Recognizing that the Sixers have “firepower in the room,” as the head coach called it, with a slant on how helpful this asset has been at various stages of the season in getting the team considerable leads.

Also part of the conversation, however, was the acknowledgement that these comfortable margins haven’t always been bulletproof.

The latest example came last Thursday, in the NBA London Game 2018, when the Sixers strung together a dominant opening 20 minutes of play, only to witness a seemingly hefty edge evaporate. 

Leaning on the statistical assistance of Sergi Oliva, the Sixers’ Director of Analytics and Strategy, Brown showed his troops that there have been 20 or so instances this campaign in which his squad has held a lead of at least 13-points.

Over the course of his talk, the head coach touched upon a few factors that, in his mind, have been recurring culprits in shifting the tide against his team.

“What happens when you’re up,” he said, “and all of a sudden it’s zero? The common denominators are always the same.”

These, according to Brown, are turnovers, and “rogue fouls.” And sure enough, both began rearing their unwelcomed heads late in Thursday’s second quarter, when Boston set the tone for its eventual second-half comeback.

The Sixers committed four turnovers and two fouls in the last six minutes before intermission, resulting in their 22-point advantage being whittled down to nine by the break. 

“In general,” Brown said of turnovers and fouling, “those two things feature in some of our demises.”

The Sixers, of course, understand the importance of resolving these issues. Such is the reason they’re routinely emphasized and drilled in practice and shootaround settings.

Brown doesn’t want the Sixers feeling any type of “albatross” around their collective neck, though. He wants his young, spirited, high-flying team competing loose and free.

After all, “They’ve done a really good job in getting those leads,” Brown pointed out. The Sixers’ uptempo, pass-heavy, attacking, 3-point embracing style of play has contributed to that.

As has been the case throughout the season, it’s a matter of sustaining the good long enough to override potential pitfalls.

“I think it just comes down to us continuing to execute on offense,” T.J. McConnell said Sunday. “When we’re moving the ball, sharing it, cutting, and scoring, I think that energizes our defense.”

The idea of the Sixers becoming complacent upon seizing sizable leads isn’t one McConnell buys. He’s also unwilling to use relative youth as an excuse.

“We just got to do a better job of being together, closing teams out, defending, and executing - that’s really what it comes down to,” said the third-year point guard. “We kind of just lost our way [Thursday], and we can’t do that against Boston, or any team in the NBA.”

Coincidentally enough, one of those 20-something games included on Brown’s PowerPoint about getting leads of 13 points or more was the Sixers’ most recent home meeting against the Toronto Raptors, which visit The Center Monday for a Martin Luther King Jr. matinee (1:00 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network).

Back on December 21st, the Sixers blew things open with a strong finish to the first half, and went up by as many as 22 points early in the third period. From there, the Raps, currently second in the Eastern Conference, outscored the Sixers 60-33 en route to a 114-109 victory.

Toronto has bested the Sixers in three previous meetings this season.

“They are royalty in the NBA East for sure,” Brown said of the Sixers’ Atlantic Division rival. “We’ve been there with them, [but] we’ve got a lot of work to do to go get a win.”

As true for the beginning of the game as it is for the middle and end as well.

Opponent Outlook:

Face the NBA finalists from each of the past three seasons in consecutive games, and do so without an All-Star you say? Such is the road recently travelled by the Toronto Raptors, and they nearly went 2-0 during this stretch.

On the heels of Thursday’s blowout 133-99 home win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto turned around Saturday and hosted the Golden State Warriors. Despite surrendering 81 points in the first half, the Raptors came up just two points short of the defending champs, 127-125.

Three-time All-Star Kyle Lowry has missed Toronto’s last three games with a tailbone injury. The Philadelphia product is listed as questionable for Monday’s contest.   

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