Game Preview | Days After Impressive Comeback, Re-Match with Charlotte Awaits

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Scene Setter:

Of all the takeaways to be had from the 76ers’ trip to Milwaukee, the biggest for Brett Brown - aside from turnovers - was that the game’s dramatic turnaround captured the essence of what his club is, and what it isn’t, at the moment.

We’ll address this matter in inverse order.

What the Sixers are not, in Brown’s eyes, at least not yet, is a group with the luxury of calling on a singular weapon like Giannis Antetokounmpo, who, on his own, presents the threat of taking over a game at the drop of a hat. Such was the type of performance the Sixers bore witness to in Sunday’s third quarter, when the Freak factored in 14 points during Milwaukee’s go-ahead 21-0 surge.

What the Sixers are, according to Brown, is a team whose parts feed off each other, functioning at their best - on both ends of the court - when the efforts are collective, not individual.

Certainly, there have been multiple instances this season when Joel Embiid, with his towering, multifaceted skill set, has imposed his will on a game. Same goes for Ben Simmons, with his dare-you-to-stop-me package of vision, downhill speed, explosiveness, strength, and athleticism.

But even if it’s Embiid dialing up a clutch, feathery, size-defying jump shot, or Simmons blasting through an open driving lane for one of his vicious dunks, Brown recognizes that the foundation for highlights like these, more often than not, stems from five players on the floor working in concert, and being connected.

“We have a team that needs to free each other up,” Brown said Sunday, following the Sixers’ second and final stop of the season at BMO Harris Bradley Center. “Whatever we do, we have to get done as a team.”

On offense, that means cutting, and doing so violently, as Brown put it.

It also entails setting screens, and not just any screens.

“We have to have adult screens,” Brown specified.

In addition to body movement, ball movement is a critical ingredient, too. 

The good news for the Sixers is that, despite Sunday’s outcome, they’ve excelled in many of these areas over the course of an encouraging season.

They’ve proven to be one of the top teams in the NBA in terms of scoring off cuts (4th-1.32 points per possession), and, as has been well documented, are one of the league’s premiere passing clubs (2nd-64.6 ast%, 1st-349.4 passes per game). They’ve also been effective playing off screens, statistically ranking among the top third.

At the outset of Sunday’s crazy back-and-forth game, many of these qualities were on full display, as the Sixers raced out to a 20-point lead. But, as Brown has noted several times in recent days, this time of the year is all about getting the Sixers to do what they do well better, and longer.

Last week’s close out victories over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Hornets provided quality examples.

“That’s what a team is about,” Brown said following the Charlotte win, in which the Sixers delivered a balanced, knockout punch in the fourth quarter. “I think we got it all. I think that locker room is spirited. I think they’re extremely together. They coexist as well as any team I’ve coached since I’ve been here.”

And with that spirit, the Sixers will get back to it Tuesday in Charlotte.

Uber Keys to the Game:

Heading into Tuesday’s stop at Spectrum Centre, the Sixers figure to have their first match-up of the season against Charlotte fresh in mind, having just played the Hornets last Friday at The Center. In the 110-99 triumph, the Sixers overcame an 11-point deficit behind a dominant fourth quarter, during which they outscored Charlotte, 110-99. Here are some keys for Round 2:

Trimming Turnovers: With turnovers looming large in Sunday’s loss at Milwaukee, the Sixers will aim to get back to protecting the ball the way they did earlier last week. They gave the pill away just nine and 11 times, respectively, in wins over Cleveland and Charlotte.  

Containing Kemba Walker: The two-time All-Star got going early last Friday, en route to finishing with a game-high 31 points. Good news for the Sixers, they adjusted their pick-and-roll defense successfully down the stretch, holding Walker to 4 for 11 shooting in the second half by relying less on switching, and more on aggressive shows and hard hedges.

Attacking the Glass: The Sixers rank first in the NBA in rebounding (45.8 per 100 possessions), Charlotte fifth (44.9 per 100 possessions). That the Sixers were able to outdo the Hornets on the boards, 15-8, in last Friday’s fourth quarter was a pivotal change, after the Hornets were plus-2 on the glass at halftime.

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