Game Preview: Readying for Round 2 vs. Indy, a Practice About Talking
Sizing Up the Sixers (0-7):
The day Allen Iverson showed up to visit the Sixers at their training complex in Camden, New Jersey, the team was talkin’ ‘bout talking.
An obvious, cheap, and easy lede, perhaps, but that doesn’t change the fact that the above statement was true.
On the heels of enduring another narrow loss, their fourth this season that’s come by fewer than 10 points, the Sixers decided to spend the day between games in their home-and-home series with Indiana focusing on fine-tuning their communication.
“It’s all we did,” said Brett Brown. He felt that had there been more effective communication in crunch time versus Indiana Wednesday, the Sixers might have been able to slow down the Pacers’ All-Star duo of Paul George and Jeff Teague.
Switching defensively and guarding middle pick-and-roll sets proved particularly problematic.
So, Brown was asked, how does a team actually practice talking?
“You practice talking,” he said matter-of-factly. “Think of that. You do. You practice talking.”
Better talking, Brown and the Sixers believe, not only could offer solutions to the late-game execution issues they encountered in Indianapolis, but also from earlier this season.
Specific to Wednesday’s meeting with the Pacers, the Sixers had a tough time getting into their offense in the latter stages of the fourth quarter. In other close contests versus Oklahoma City, Orlando, and Cleveland, turnovers down the stretch loomed large.
“That’s a big thing for us,” said Jahlil Okafor, who felt that, aside from the closing moments of Wednesday’s game, the Sixers communicated well.
Underscoring this matter further, the Sixers, per stats.nba.com, rank 28th in the league in turnovers surrendered in the final four minutes of regulation of games with point differentials of five or less.
Thursday at practice, Brown relied on video to show his group how sharper chatter could lead to winning results.
“We’d walk through the stuff we saw on film, trying to have great carryover into a visual to let them walk through something on a court,” Brown explained. “We practiced going with our footwork and our mouths and just what we’re trying to do with our defense.”
In respect to communication, a reality the Sixers are dealing with is that seven members of their roster hail from overseas. The Sixers are tied with the Utah Jazz for having the highest number of internationally-born players in the NBA.
“Funny enough,” Brown said, “there’s a whole other challenge with our foreign guys, trying to pick stuff up, and just grab languages and words.
“I don’t mean to make it into something incredibly dramatic, but it’s real, and it’s stuff we talked about freely out there [Thursday].”
The Sixers intend to welcome back Joel Embiid in their rematch with Indiana. He was prescribed rest Wednesday by the Sixers’ medical staff. On Friday, the rookie is expected to again receive a playing time budget of roughly 24 minutes.
Friday’s tilt also marks the start of the Sixers’ second back-to-back set of the season. As far as the center rotation goes, Brown indicated his plan is to use Richaun Holmes as the primary back-up to Embiid, and leave Jahlil Okafor, listed as “probable,” in the “bullpen,” so that Okafor can be fresh for Saturday’s trip to Atlanta.
“If we need [Okafor],” Brown said of Friday’s game, “we will use him. I’m sure we’re going to make that decision as it unfolds. It will all be generated out of knowing that we may not have Jahlil, and we already know we don’t have Joel, for Atlanta.”
Embiid’s status for Monday’s road game at Houston has yet to be determined.
Sizing Up the Pacers (4-4):
In this section of Wednesday’s ‘Game Preview,’ a good amount of space was devoted to Paul George, one of two All-Stars currently on Indiana’s roster.
The other is Jeff Teague, who earned his lone bid to the NBA’s annual star-powered showcase in 2015.
Now in his eighth season in the league, Teague provided what was arguably his strongest showing of the year Wednesday, ripping off a run of nine points in a row in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter to help the Pacers erase a six-point deficit.
He also handed out one of his nine assists on George’s game-tying basket with 3.9 seconds to go.
Not only did Teague finish with a season-best 30 points versus the Sixers, he did so in efficient fashion. The Wake Forest product was 10 of 16 from the field, and 9 for 10 from the foul line.
Originally the 19th overall selection in the 2009 draft, Teague was an Atlanta Hawk for the first seven seasons of his career. He was dealt to Indiana in July as part of a three-way trade that also involved Utah. Teague has since replaced George Hill as the Pacers’ point guard, and, as of Friday morning, ranked 10th in the league in assists.
With Wednesday’s win, Indiana has now taken six consecutive contests from the Sixers. This winning streak is the Pacers’ longest over the Sixers since they prevailed in a franchise-record 10 straight victories from 1996 through 1999.
Following Friday’s pairing, the Sixers and Indiana won’t meet again until the final week of March. The Eastern Conference rivals will then square off in the finale of their four-game season series on April 10th at The Center, in a game that will mark the Sixers’ last home outing of the campaign.