Sixers need to shore up defense

Posted: January 21, 2014

DEFENSE. It has been the hot topic on the mind of 76ers head coach Brett Brown practically since he took over this team in August. He knew that he had no real inside presence to protect the rim, so doing that would have to be a total team effort. The plan was to protect the paint at all cost and get out on outside shooters as quickly as possible.

Another problem: It became painfully obvious to Brown that he didn't have the quickest of wing players to close the gap and protect the lane to the outside shooters. Opponents quickly accumulated very good three-point shooting percentages against the Sixers.

As the losses have mounted - the Sixers fell to 13-27 with a 103-78 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday - Brown has talked more and more about the defense, which going into yesterday was giving up a league-worst 110.0 points a game.

The Sixers entered this past weekend on a semi-high note, having stopped a four-game losing skid with a victory over the visiting Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday. But then that defense thing came back to haunt them, and it wasn't because of the Sixers' inability to play it. It was the concentrated effort of their opponents at that end of the floor that proved fatal.

The Miami Heat got to the Wells Fargo Center on Friday and were more than a little surly. They had lost their previous three games and, being the cerebral team that they are, didn't have to be reminded that the Sixers had won their season-opener against Miami.

Before the game, Brown predicted that his team would be facing a defensive-minded reigning champion, and he couldn't have been more correct. Miami rarely let the Sixers get a good look at the basket in the lane and were quick enough to pressure them into just two makes in 20 three-point attempts.

"It's always a unique system when you play against them, how they string you out on offense and on the defensive end how hard they shell and how much pressure they put on the ball. I don't think we did a very good job of giving ballhandlers an outlet," said Spencer Hawes. "We didn't move the ball very well. Their defense was obviously good."

Yes it was, as the Sixers were held to 36.9 percent shooting from the floor and turned the ball over 23 times. As much as LeBron James and company can thrill with their offense, they can kill on the other end of the floor as well. They particularly concentrated on shutting down Michael Carter-Williams, who burned them in the Sixers' season-opener. They proceeded to limit the rookie to one field goal and five turnovers.

Saturday in Chicago, the Sixers went against a typically stingy Bulls team that had given up an average of 105 points in their previous four games. Coach Tom Thibodeau expressed to his team his displeasure on the defensive end, and the Bulls righted the ship on Saturday, limiting the Sixers to 35.1 percent shooting, including just 2-for-19 from three-point range. Having also been burned by MCW early in the season in a Sixers win, Chicago forced him into 5-for-22 shooting and five turnovers.

As much as the Sixers need to improve their defense, they also have to get better at the other end, and it isn't going to get any easier. Not only did they suffer the lopsided loss in Chicago, but three players suffered injuries that could cost them some time. The worst happened to Tony Wroten, who hurt his right ankle and may miss some significant time. Brandon Davies (right pinkie) and James Anderson (back) also had to leave the game and are listed as day-to-day. When you have a roster as thin as Brown's, that's not good.

Perhaps the Sixers could overcome the thinning roster with a few strong defensive performances, starting with today's game in Washington. They certainly could take some lessons in that area from their last two opponents.

On Twitter: @BobCooney76