Game Preview | With Season in Full Swing, Finding Time to Fine Tune a Priority
The following NBA truth might seem strange, or counterintuitive, especially since the professional livelihoods of the league's coaches and players revolve around playing basketball, but once the season gets underway, it’s hard to practice.
This statement has nothing to do with how difficult practice sessions are or aren’t, and everything to do with timing. Given the volume of games on the schedule, the every-other-day rhythm games are almost always played at, travel logistics, and the rest and health maintenance needs for players, getting in a gym for on-court formal activities other than gameday shootarounds - essentially scouting dress rehearsals - is difficult.
Subsequently, for the 76ers, much like their peer teams around the rest of the league, opportunities to focus on and drill areas requiring individual and collective improvements are limited. This matter was very much on Brett Brown’s mind a few days ago, when, on Christmas eve, the Sixers managed to sneak in a coveted workout.
With the group then on a five-game losing streak, Brown said that one of his goals for the “second-third” of the season (which, in his world, lasts from Christmas to the All-Star break) is to figure out how the Sixers can carve out more practice opportunities. Doing so, he believes, holds a key to the club getting better.
“You need to work to improve, it’s a simple formula,” Brown told reporters last Sunday in New York, before the Sixers defeated the New York Knicks the next afternoon, 105-98.
To Brown, it’s not just about simply working for working’s sake. The Sixers’ work has to be done smartly, efficiently, all while delicately balancing short and long-term interests.
“There’s a portion of what I’m saying that needs to be tempered with the reality of the schedule and realities of our health,” said Brown.
When making those remarks Sunday, Brown was still unsure whether Joel Embiid or JJ Redick would be cleared for Monday’s matinee against the Knicks. Both starters ended up returning, and in a big way, combining for 49 points in the Sixers’ victory.
Nevertheless, throughout the month of December, a fair number of players - critical members of the rotation, at that - have been in and out of the line-up. In addition to Embiid and Redick, Justin Anderson, Trevor Booker, Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, and Dario Saric have all missed time. Markelle Fultz has been sidelined since late October, while fellow rookie Furkan Korkmaz was recently diagnosed with a lisfranc injury.
The Sixers’ available personnel, to say the least, has been inconsistent.
That practice time has also been scarce lately has only made handling this stretch that much more tricky for Brown and his assistants.
Prior to leaving Wednesday for the three-game Western Conference leg of their current road trip, the Sixers had been afforded a mere four official standalone practice days this month.
“Given the load we take on an nightly basis,” Redick said, “it’s hard to go out and compete, play, and then turn around less than 24 hours later, and practice, then go play again the next day.”
Redick should know. Supremely committed to and regimented about staying in shape, he’s been in the league 12 years.
“Those days between games, a lot of times you need for recovery, and to sharpen your own skill work,” said the shooting guard.
“We have to find ways to improve individually that will add up collectively to the obvious areas that need a little bit of growth,” Brown said. “The rhythm of our schedule is challenging, and the realities of our injuries to date are challenging. But somewhere, we’ve got to find that.”
Since delivering those words earlier in the week, Brown has wasted little time taking action.
After Tuesday’s off day, which came on the heels of Monday’s important win, the Sixers left Philadelphia for Portland late Wednesday morning. Upon landing in Rip City, the team went straight to the University of Portland, where they spent the middle of the afternoon working out.
Not only was the practice time welcomed, so too was an influx of healthy contributors. Embiid and Redick were on the floor, as was Justin Anderson, who could return from a near six-week absence (tibial stress syndrome, left leg shin splints) as early as Thursday, when the Sixers face the Trail Blazers (10:30 PM EST; TNT, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network).
“We’ve seen what this group can do when it’s got a full team,” said Brown. “We acknowledge when there are some pieces missing, we’re vulnerable.”
Now, with stops at Portland, Denver, and Phoenix on tap before the calendar flips to 2018, the objective is straightforward, according to Brown: “take the full team, take these next three games, and move forward to get back to a winning way.”
With some extra practice time, and extra bodies, such a goal seems like it could be that much more within reach.
While we’re on the topic long breaks being rare in NBA schedules, the Portland Trail Blazers (17-16) have been gone an essentially unheard of four straight days without a game. Currently the eighth-place team in the Western Conference, Rip City was last in action December 23rd, knocking off the Los Angeles Lakers, 95-92, to halt a three-game losing streak. The Sixers bested Portland, 101-81, back on Thanksgiving Eve, and will be seeking a season sweep of the Blazers for the first time since 2009.
• Video: TNT
• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network