THERE WILL BE no major overhaul made to the 76ers' defense. Though they've given up 42 combined three-pointers in the past two games (21 each to the Portland Trail Blazers and Brooklyn Nets, both team records), coach Brett Brown has said he needs them to improve on what they're doing, or not doing. It is not a scheme problem, it is a problem in executing the scheme Brown has implemented. Like pretty much everything he has put in on both sides of the ball, the defense is pretty vanilla. The problems are varied and correctable, but right now, there are so many of them, it's pretty much impossible to fix them all at once.
I went back and watched the past two games, and here are some of the problems I picked up on:
* Lack of effort: Numerous times after either a missed shot or a turnover, heads dip in disgust faster than legs start to run. The opponent is out on the run well ahead of the Sixers' getting back on defense. That means more offensive players get down the floor before the Sixers get there and leaves the ones who do get back scrambling. After a couple of passes, a wide-open three-pointer is launched.
* Lack of communication: It appears the team has the option of what to do when it defends a pick and roll. Either the defenders can switch or they can fight through the screen and stick with their men. When either one of these things is done, they are pretty good at stopping the three-point shooting. But there are numerous times when they neither switch nor stick with their man. One man will switch, the other doesn't, and then there is a wide-open shooter.
* Bad shot selection on offensive end: So many times, the team will have an offensive possession that consists of a long shot early in the shot clock. Two problems here: One is that the Sixers aren't a very good long-shooting team, so this usually results in a miss. The other is that no one is in position to rebound and usually is still getting to his offensive spots. When the shot gets launched and is rebounded by the other team, the Sixers appear not to know the shot was taken. This again leads to a run out that often leads to open jumpers.
* The team isn't physically tough: Too many times, players are held up on picks for too long. Brown has talked in the past of how when he was in San Antonio, it was a given that the first pick of the game on one of his guards set the tone. Usually, that guard would lower a shoulder into the pick setter and let him know it wasn't going to be an easy task for the rest of the night. The Sixers don't do that, instead often dancing around the pick, thus allowing enough time to get caught up and freeing the jump shooter.
"We need to do what we're doing better," Brown said. "The general public would come in here and say, 'They're giving up a lot of threes.' Some of that is in relation to our rules [protecting the paint first], but we have to do what we're doing better. We don't do what we're doing well, and, really, a lot of what has happened is we don't get back on defense, in transition defense. Or our inability to contain our own man and it becomes a penetrate-and-pitch game.
"For me, as you responsibly do your job and you put them in positions to grow a program, we have to do what we're doing better. What we're doing is the Spurs' rules; there's nothing funky going on here, it's nothing that great. They need to be challenged and they need to be held accountable, and we need to develop them and we need to improve them. If we think we're just going to jump and play some other defense and everything is going to be fixed, [that] is so naïve and such fool's gold. That is not the issue."
Defense isn't the only issue, of course. I watched the opening tip of the Nets game and was more than surprised to see one player standing totally flat-footed, arms dangling to the side of his body, while another player was also flat-footed, with his hands on his hips. I stopped the game to get a closer look. Sure enough, the ball already was being tipped to open the game. It is a major sign of why the team has fallen behind early in the game and giving up close to 30 points on average in the first quarter. When the talent is usually below that of the opponent, not being ready to play is especially inexcusable.
Perhaps the Sixers will get a lift tonight when they face the Nets again, as it appears as if rookie guard Michael Carter-Williams could be back in the lineup after missing seven games with a skin infection in his knee. He has been a full participant in the past two practices and appears to be on course to get back tonight. He is the NBA leader in steals, at more than 3 a game, and could give the defense a much-needed boost.
"He's disruptive, and I think that that can help," Brown said. "As a group, we know where we're set. It's just an area that we can't let go of, and I won't. We talk about it daily, we evaluate it daily. Not so long ago, we were seeing signs that we were getting better defensively. We all live in such a 'what did you do for me lately' type of world and mindset that we remember getting torched by threes, and so do I. We have to fix some of our problems."
Sixers vs. Brooklyn Nets
When: 7 tonight
Where: Wells Fargo Center
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/ESPN (97.5 FM)
Game stuff: In their last meeting on Monday, the Nets drilled the Sixers, 130-94. They made a team-record 21 three-pointers and got a 29-point third quarter from Joe Johnson. The Nets are so much better offensively, now that Deron Williams is back and healthy.
Sixers at Milwaukee Bucks
When: 8:30 p.m. tomorrow
Where: Bradley Center, Milwaukee
TV/Radio: The Comcast Network/ESPN (97.5 FM)
Game stuff: Not exactly a battle of the titans in this one, as it pits two of the bottom-dwellers in the Eastern Conference. Because of various injuries, the Bucks have a very thin roster right now. In a double-overtime loss to the Knicks on Wednesday, four players played 49 minutes or more.
BY THE NUMBERS
6: That’s how many times a team has made 15 or more three-pointers in a game this season against the Sixers, an NBA record.
1: That’s how many games the Sixers have won of the 11 they’ve played without rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams.
15: Of the best-selling jerseys in the NBA, Michael Carter-Williams is No.
15 on the list. He is the top rookie. The top five overall are LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.