Game Preview | Brown, Team Eager for First Playoff Push Together

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Scene Setter:

Take the totality of Brett Brown’s time as an NBA coach - 17 years - and by no means is the man a stranger to gearing up for post-season runs.

In the context of his tenure in Philadelphia, however, this is definitely new territory.

Thursday in Chicago (8:00 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia+, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network), Brown’s 76ers will make an anticipated return from their week-long All-Star break, and with it, set out on a 27-game sprint to the finish line of the regular season.

Preparing for the playoffs was essentially all Brown knew in his “former life,” which is how he often refers to his stint as a San Antonio assistant. In each of his 12 years on Gregg Popovich’s bench, the Spurs qualified for the post-season, winning four league titles, and reaching the Finals five times.

In recent years, few people involved with the Sixers have been required to live and breath the realities of the organization’s rebuilding efforts with the depth of understanding and patience that Brown has.  

That doesn’t mean, though, the 57-year old hasn’t looked forward to the day when the club he’s poured so much sweat equity into developing would be ready to play beyond the 82-game mark. 

“This is why we do our jobs,” said Brown after Wednesday’s practice session in Camden. He then repeated the phrase for emphais. “[At least] this is why I do mine.”

Upon accepting the Sixers head coaching position in August of 2013, Brown was fully aware of the landscape surrounding him, and for the better part of the last five seasons, he’s willingly stood along the frontline of hard-fought battles that have produced only sporadic spurts of success.

Now, thanks to an infusion of healthy young talent, and the integration of seasoned, proven veterans, wins have not only become more regular for the Sixers, they’re eclipsing the alternative.

As of Thursday morning, the Sixers, at 30-25, owned the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference, sitting 3.0 games in front of ninth-place Detroit, and just 2.0 games behind fourth-place Washington, which the Sixers visit Sunday.

Amidst all the adversity that Brown has had to navigate since his hiring, he refused to lose sight of the big picture. The time to take a symbolic step forward has arrived. 

“You envisaged when you took the job that you’re here to try to win a championship, you try to grow a championship culture and mentality,” Brown said. “To be a step closer to being in the playoffs, I hope it validates the work that all these good people - my assistant coaches, the organization - have put in.”

In the same breath, Brown was clear about the following: enthusiastic as the Sixers are about the prospect of post-season play, by no means do they think they’ve arrived yet.

As such, at Wednesday’s practice, the Sixers’ first since the break, the theme revolved around the importance of adopting an appropriate disposition for this time of year as much as anything else.

“I think it’s a mentality that you come back with that you see the world a little differently than certainly we have in previous years,” said Brown.

During the “second-third” of the season, which Brown defines as the chunk of the schedule between Christmas and the All-Star Game, the Sixers were among the most successful, statistically-balanced teams in the league. Their 16-7 record was fifth-best overall, and their net rating of 7.8 second only to the Golden State Warriors.

Down the season’s home stretch, Brown wants the Sixers focused on being “very good” at what they already do well. That means continuing to defend and rebound relentlessly, operate with effective pace and movement, and play through their budding stars.  

“We want to clean things up more than add,” Brown said.

“We’ve hit on some things in the last month we’ve gotten better at,” said JJ Redick, aiming to get into the playoffs for the 12th time in as many seasons as a pro. Specifically, he cited early offense and reducing turnovers as areas of improvement.

“In terms of where our team is trending, both offensively and defensively, we’re headed in the right direction. You want to be trending in that direction as you get closer to the middle of April.”

Brown, too, believes there’s been progress. Past experience has made him all the wiser. He knows that this all-important juncture of the season is no time for contentment, especially with lofty goals in the offing.

“We’re excited to keep on getting better, and better we need to get,” said Brown,”because it’s not getting in the playoffs -- you want to win in the playoffs, you want home court in the playoffs. That’s the mentality and mindset that I have.”

Opponent Outlook:

For the third and final time this season, the Sixers will face the Chicago Bulls (20-37), with whom they’ve split their first two meetings of the year. Round 1 went to Chicago, 117-115, while the Sixers claimed the clubs’ most recent pairing, a 115-101 January 24th victory at The Center. In advance of Thursday’s game at United Center, Bulls executive John Paxson announced his club will be prioritizing playing time for its younger prospects for the duration of the year.

Follow Along:

• Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia+ / NBC Sports app

• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network