CAMDEN, NJ - Wednesday’s meeting with the Washington Wizards (7:00 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network) marks a relevant juncture of the 76ers’ schedule on several fronts.
For starters, the tilt is the last in a string of six straight at The Center, a stretch during which the team has so far gone 3-2. Of note, the losses have come against the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, clubs that have faced off in each of the last three editions of the NBA Finals.
The timing of Wednesday’s contest is worth taking stock of for another reason, however. It will be the Sixers’ 20th of the year, essentially bringing them to the end of the first quarter of the 2017-2018 82-game campaign. And, at this stage, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the group is headed in an encouraging direction.
First, and most basic, the Sixers have, to this point, established themselves as an eye-opening team in the East, doing so while navigating the league’s hardest schedule. Entering play Wednesday, their 11-8 record was good for fifth-place in the standings, and guaranteed that they’ll head into December with a plus-.500 winning percentage for the first time since 2012.
As for factors directly attributable to this strong start, the impact made by the Sixers’ cornerstone prospects can certainly be considered one. The integration of proven veterans very much capable of contributing at high levels is another.
Tying these two elements together, though, is a third ingredient that could very well be most important of all, especially when taking the long view.
Brett Brown has had time, and a good amount of it, since being hired in August of 2013. Only five head coaches have been employed longer.
Just how much of a difference can this type of support and patience make when trying to turn the fortunes of a team? Leave it to a star who’s been there to sum things up, as LeBron James did earlier this week, while discussing the Sixers’ ascent.
“If you want to build something, you can’t just automatically [think] it’s going to happen overnight,” said the four-time MVP and three-time champion. “The [Sixers] organization has done a great job in believing in Brett Brown’s system, believing in what he wanted to do, and they gave him some time.”
Using Brown’s three primary coaching tenets as checkpoints, let’s see where the Sixers stand.
With regard to defense, the group is on track for its strongest showing in the Brown era. Heading into Wednesday’s pairing with the Wizards, the Sixers held a 102.9 defensive rating, good for 10th-best in the league.
Pace has been another major point of emphasis under Brown. In that department, the Sixers, which average 104.6 possessions per game, rank fourth overall. No team with a winning record plays at a faster tempo.
Lastly, there’s the 3-ball. The Sixers have hit 208 threes this season, 14th-most in the league, while shooting 36.2 percent from behind the arc, also 14th-best.
For good measure, we’ll throw in a measurable that might as well be “3B” on Brown’s list.
Living and breathing their coach’s mantra that “the pass is king,” the Sixers generate 24.7 assists per 100 possessions, the NBA’s third-highest rate. They have the third-best assist percentage in the league, at 63.1, and actually pass more than any other club (352.4 per game).
“It’s one of the things I feel most comfortable with - we’ve implemented a system,” Brown said Monday. “What we’re trying to do on offense, what we’re trying to do on defense hasn’t changed.”
Even while managing a cast of players that has been remade over the years.
“That’s culture,” said Brown. “Culture is longevity.”
Brown, in his 17th season as an NBA coach, feels a certain degree of discipline has been necessary to keep the Sixers on course, and follow a path he has deemed to be the right one.
“That’s the consistency of the program,” Brown said. “The system and philosophy behind what we’re doing has had a chance, and I appreciate the owners allowing that.”
He, and the franchise he serves, appear to have won some admiration along the way.
“A lot of teams, a lot of organizations - in all sports - give up on the system, or give up on the guy very fast,” James said Monday, before going up against Brown and the Sixers. “The last couple years, he’s continued to build players and personnel to fit what he wants to do, and they’re playing good ball.”
A quarter of the way through an anticipated season, that much seems safe to say.
For the second time this season, the Sixers will be pitted against the Washington Wizards (11-9). The first match-up between the Eastern Conference foes fell on opening night of the regular season, a game that Washington eeked out, 120-115.
Wednesday at The Center, the Wizards will finish up a challenging road-road back-to-back set that began Tuesday in Minneapolis, where the Wiz fought their way to an impressive 92-89 triumph. They held the Timberwolves to 18 points in the fourth quarter, with Otto Porter sticking the decisive shot with 25 seconds left. Washington is currently without All-Star point guard John Wall, sidelined for the immediate future with a knee injury.