Sixers vs. Spurs Preview: Coaching and D-Fence

Brett Brown's mentor is coming to town. - Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, the Sixers will welcome the San Antonio Spurs to the Wells Fargo Center. And while the outcome of the game will be determined on the court, this matchup is all about the men in suits on the sidelines.

In today’s NBA landscape, it’s no secret that the League’s elite teams all have a savvy and innovative coach patrolling the sidelines and implementing an effective defensive strategy. Look at last May’s semifinals.

The Eastern Conference Finals featured Frank Vogel’s intense Pacers defense—which predicates on quick rotations, switching on pick and rolls and never allowing open looks—and Erik Spoelstra’s Miami defense that initially blitzes the opposing point guard with two freak-athletes. The Western Conference Finals boasted a matchup of Memphis’ physical defense versus Gregg Popovich’s Spurs defense that utilized sly zone spacing with high-risk/high-reward gambling.

Sure, the teams in the NBA that score over 100 points every game are the hottest tickets and frequently make the most national television appearances. But the fact is, you can’t really win championships in this League without playing gritty defense—Grantland’s Zach Lowe constantly talks about championship teams always having a top-15 defense in opponent points per game.

While your 2013-14 Sixers have been a top-10 team in terms of forcing turnovers, they rank 30th in opponent points per game—even worse than the Los Angeles Clippers. Tonight, they’ll welcome the San Antonio Spurs, who rank second in opponent points per game, surrendering just 92.4 points a night.

Thus, while this evening’s main storyline is obviously new Sixers head coach Brett Brown facing his former team for the first time, tonight might also be a snapshot of what is to come from Doug Collins’ replacement.

Brown has done a phenomenal job this young season. There’s no ands, ifs, or buts about it. Sure, the Sixers are giving up points like candy on Halloween, but they’re playing fun, fast and efficient offensive basketball while ranking ninth in opponent field goal percentage.

Even the average fan has noticed the Sixers’ rapid ball movement—a pace that I’ve deemed, "Spursian"—and that this team has been incredible at getting to the rim. Don’t look now, but the Sixers lead the entire NBA in points in the paint at 352!

Yet even though this Sixers on-court product is a pleasure to experience and watch three or four times a week, it likely isn’t maintainable throughout the entire season.

How many times have you read that Sam Hinkie will look to trade Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young the instant an attractive trade is proposed that will bring back valuable assets?

And as those presumably inevitable trade(s) will ultimately help position the 76ers franchise for a better future, so will, and has, Brett Brown’s effective coaching.

Brown spent the last six years on Pop’s bench learning the tricks of the trade of an elite NBA coach—a character that we’ve discussed most teams aren’t fortunate to have written in their respective stories.

So as you watch the Sixers likely get romped by a team that plays their game better than they do tonight, don’t be dejected. Brown’s already shown his competency and sufficient coaching methods thus far in his brief time in Philadelphia. I’m not saying he’s going to be the next Pop, but if he continues to instill the defensive strategies—and offensive, too—that he already has, we’re certainly in for an enticing future in the Wells Fargo Center.

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