The Philadelphia 76ers (0-2) fell to the Indiana Pacers 103-91 in the opening game of the season and 93-81 in their second game to the Milwaukee Bucks. The good news is that the 76ers have some young talent on the squad and they are poised to compete the best they can during this lean building era.
The bad news is that both of these games were winnable. The Sixers will need a “W” as soon as they can get it. It is likely that they will not win between 15-20 games this season. But enough of that, we know this team especially is in a marathon and not a sprint.
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The Pacers were beatable. They played the game with their third point guard. The 76ers were up at halftime and it was obvious that the absence of Paul George, David West, and Lance Stephenson — who bolted for Charlotte this offseason — put the 76ers in a position to win the game. Essentially, the Sixers lost with a 20 point spot. But as Philly.com reports, “even though Indiana was undermanned, the Sixers weren’t expected to contend with the Pacers on Wednesday night.”
The Sixers are entering every game developmentally disadvantaged. Philly took the floor with an odd personnel: a wing player in Chris Johnson, a small forward in Hollis Thompson and a big in Henry Sims. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who sat out injured, may be a few weeks away from being NBA ready, but he at the moment is the only true returning member in Philadelphia.
Philly is like a club team showcasing their potential and experimenting with combinations. At one point in the opening game, both lead guards were in the game together by committee: Alexey Shved and Tony Wroten.
Nerlens Noel provided a valiant effort, but the mid-range game will need to be a constant and he needs to guard people in the post.
A bright spot is that the Sixers featured four players in double figures and Shved is a tough cover. He has an outstanding pull up game with great vision, is skilled off the bounce and can catch and shoot. That is a nice skill set.
Although Wroten finished with 22 points and seven assists, and is a talented option with tremendous strength, speed and skill; his shot selection bordered on the atrocious. He violated what I call “Marc Turner rules”: No. 1 be balanced, No. 2 be in range, No. 3 be unguarded. And as former Utah Jazz Assistant Coach Gordon Chiesa once noted, “shot selection becomes more vital the more a younger team relies less on system.”
Noel amassed 10 rebounds and three blocks (including one from the help) but he only shot 2-of-11.
The Pacers were very tough because of the inside presence of Roy Hibbert. He and Luis Scola played a nice high-low tandem and the youth of the Sixers was not active vs. the paint touches. .
The Sixers uniform featured a No. 11 patch. This was in honor of Caldwell Jones who recently died of a heart attack. Jones played at Albany State and for the 76ers from 1976-1982.
In the Sixers second game last night vs. the Milwaukee Bucks, I was even more optimistic. When the television showed both coaches, Brett Brown and Jason Kidd, I felt good for the Sixers chances. Not that Kidd isn’t effective, he will be a fine coach, but Brown is the veteran in the league from all his time with San Antonio. Though, it did not seem to make a difference.
Both teams fought even in the first half. The game for the Sixers mirrored the Pacers game. These teams are similar, both are going to struggle. Both teams like an out of bounds series that screens for the inbounder to set up screen and roll. Coach Brown, please never let Tony Wroten inbound the basketball ever again, especially under the basket. Philly and Indiana run diamond screen, the screener options. To their credit, they pop up vs. the zone to shorten passes and get high percentage paint touches. Both teams.
Sixer fans should enjoy how the Sixers are getting after it defensively. This will be their glue. Assistant Coach Vance Walberg concept’s of “fly-out” on three attempts is apparent. They are not really a close out team. Also Walbergian is the 76ers specialty of either long range three or layup/dunk. The mid-range game is the appendix of offense.
The bad thing about losing to a team like the Bucks is that they are not very good and Philadelphia won’t get many of these chances to experience winning this season. The Bucks tended to double team out of weakness and the Sixers couldn’t beat it. This game for the Bucks was their 100th game since winning a back-to-back game.
But give the Bucks credit. In front of a sell-out crowd, O.J. Mayo looked like an All-Star in his return. He dropped 25. In the last eight minutes of the fourth quarter, the Sixers could not score. Also credit the Bucks here.
The moral of the story for the Sixers: growing pains will be inevitable. The NBA is a veteran league and the players will get a crash course this year for sure on isolation play, screen and roll, and screen and roll and defending the next action.
Defensively the Sixers look solid, but where will they get points? Perhaps Shved. With a healthy Mbah a Moute and a developing cast, the Sixers can get some wins and stave off a psychologically damaging O for November.
Noel totaled double figures in points and rebounds vs. the Bucks and this is a very good sign. I wish Noel played even better, but perspective is important. I recall Kobe Bryant needing nine games into his rookie year to achieve double figures in points. Things take time.