Game Preview | Amidst Demanding Stretch, Brown Considers Team "Ahead of Schedule"

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

LOS ANGELES, CA - Almost there.

One more game on the road, and then the 76ers finally get to load up a UHaul truck worth of luggage and equipment, and - with a traveling operation consisting of over three dozen people - head back home, while putting a demanding chunk of the schedule behind them.

To start the 2017-2018 campaign, 10 of the Sixers’ first 14 games will have been played outside of South Philadelphia, when accounting for Wednesday’s nationally televised match-up with the Los Angeles Lakers at STAPLES Center (10:30 PM EST; ESPN, NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network).

ESPN's Dave Pasch Preview Joins The BroadCast for a Preview of Wednesday's Game

By the time Wednesday’s final buzzer sounds, the Sixers will be tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the most road games played in the NBA. Making matters that much more daunting for Brett Brown’s group the past four weeks has been that 10 of its contests have already come against clubs that qualified for the playoffs last season (after the Lakers, 6 of the Sixers’ next 7 opponents will be 2017 playoff teams, too).

Despite being confronted with this early-season gauntlet, the Sixers have stood strong, and currently find themselves on the right side of .500. Their 7-6 record not only has them tied with the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks for sixth-place in the Eastern Conference standings, it marks the organization’s best 13-game start since 2012-2013.

“We have analytics people within our organization, and we all guess and project and do math - we’re ahead of schedule,” Brown said Tuesday after the Sixers were done practicing at UCLA. 

Just how challenging has the Sixers’ opening month been? As of Wednesday morning, Basketball-Reference.com ranked their schedule second-hardest among the NBA’s 30 teams, behind only the Memphis Grizzlies. ESPN.com, meanwhile, listed the Sixers’ schedule fourth on its Relative Percentage Index. Teamrankings.com had the Sixers tied with the Toronto Raptors for the toughest schedule in the league.

Should the Sixers manage to leave Los Angeles with a second straight victory, the team will finish its season-long five-game Western Conference trip with 3 wins, and 2 losses. The last time the Sixers posted a winning record on a west coast trek of this length was in Brown’s first season, when they went 4-2 while traversing the conference between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

“I feel like, at this stage, our life on the road has been excellent, for the most part,” said Brown. “It’s really hard to win on the road, let alone with a bunch of young guys who really haven’t played much together at the start of a year, but we’ve done that.”

“We got to win on the road if you want to be a playoff team, that’s what we got to do,” said Joel Embiid, who’s coming off a 32-point, 16-rebound effort against the LA Clippers Monday that marked one the most productive outings of his young career. “I think we’ve been doing a good job, and we still got a lot to work on, especially with our turnovers. We just got to be a little more efficient, too. I feel like we’ve been good defensively. We’ve been doing alright.”

As data on NBA.com shows, the Sixers have indeed been holding their own on the road. Their offensive and defensive ratings of 103.0 and 104.8, respectively, rank right in the league’s middle of the pack (15th, 12th). They’ve shot for solid percentages both overall (46.3 fg%, 8th) and from three (39.1 3fg%, 7th) as well.

The most relevant number of all, however, in respect to the Sixers’ performance on the road is 5, which represents an away game win total good for second-best in the league. Even more revealing is that each of these victories have come in “clutch” scenarios, defined by NBA.com as games played within a 5-point margin during the final 5 minutes of regulation.

“From a head coaching perspective, you’re always greedy,” Brown told reporters Tuesday. “We all try to coach a little bit harder after you win, and get greedy - really zoom in on the areas that influence winning the most, and coach those areas hard. I think that we have done that.”

Once they get back to Philadelphia, the Sixers will look ahead to a season-long 6-game homestand, beginning Saturday with a rematch against the Golden State Warriors. Overall, 10 of the Sixers’ next 11 games will be held at The Center.

Regardless of location, Brown’s approach has been simple.

“I think you just sort of live a game-by-game life, and just try to knock out good days,” he said. “I understand what’s around the corner, but there’s no relief, there’s no forgiveness in our league. None of us, led by me, feel like that.”

Opponent Outlook:

Having picked second in the draft order for a third straight year, the Los Angeles Lakers (6-8), of course, added hometown point guard Lonzo Ball to the mix this summer. Through 14 games, he’s averaged 9.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 7.2 assists.

“I don’t know him personally,” said Joel Embiid. “I love what he’s doing, and I’m a big fan.”

Brett Brown said that Ball’s presence puts a premium on transition defense.

“He is elite, and dynamic, so you got to get back.”

Brown has also been keeping a close eye on forward Kyle Kuzma, who was drafted 27th overall in June. The Sixers had the 22-year old Utah product in for a workout in the spring. Heading into play Wednesday, he ranked third among all rookies with an average of 14.9 points per game. 

“He’s a modern day player,” Brown said. “He can play with a bounce, he can make a three, he gets out in open court. He’s somebody personally I was paying attention to a lot.”

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Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network