Silver linings get tougher to find when losses pile up at the rate they do for the Sixers. Eventually, everyone has to be better, from the coaching staff down to the players. In a dementedly happy sort of way, the silver lining and criticisms intersected in the Sixers 100-91 loss to the Nets.
TJ McConnell had a rather #nice outing, shooting 6-9 from the field including 3-4 from downtown, an outlier of a performance for him from deep. Yet when the game got down to crunch time, Brett Brown again insisted on a lineup run by Isaiah Canaan, a look that has repeatedly failed in late-game situations over the last month.
Post-game, Brown insisted that Canaan's shooting profile matches up better with Jahlil Okafor -- which is sound in theory -- but eventually you have to try new things and see if they work. If I have one major criticism of Brown, it's his rigidity in some of his decision-making. He doesn't need to fly off the handle or jerk guys' minutes around, but Brown is under no immediate pressure to win right now, particularly given supposed extension talks with the front office. His insistence in running out the same guys in the same situations is maddening.
Thankfully, the return of Tony Wroten has given us a glimpse of all sorts of different lineup combinations, and tonight even the Nerlens Noel-Okafor pairing looked downright compatible at times. The Sixers only coughed the ball up 10 times on the evening, well below the season average of 17.4, and generally looked like a competent offense throughout the night.
A big part of that was the second half surge from the team's young centerpiece. Okafor has struggled to produce in the wake of his off-court issues, but he came back with a vengeance tonight, dropping 22 and 10 boards. He frequently exploited matchups against smaller players like Thad Young, forced Brook Lopez into foul trouble and repeatedly attacked Andrea Bargnani when matched up against him. He played with purpose, and his 8-8 night from the free throw line is something I never would have thought possible watching him struggle at the stripe in college.
He was let down big time by his teammates on the perimeter; the quadrant of Robert Covington, Isaiah Canaan, Hollis Thompson and Nik Stauskas went a combined 0-22 from deep, with several misses coming off good reads by Okafor once he was double-teamed. Considering the general shooting ability of the group (mostly in theory, in Stauskas' case), even an average performance from three probably would have been enough for a win.
At the very least, competitive basketball returned after a brutal blowout in San Antonio and some troubling front office rumblings throughout the week. For that, if nothing else, Sixers fans can be thankful.
- Nerlens had a defensive possession in the third quarter where he switched out to contest a three pointer, rotated back and then challenged a Thad Young layup attempt that ended up being an airball. Perhaps the couple day break between games helped him heal a little bit, but he had more bounce in his step tonight, at least defensively.
- Richaun Holmes is very K.J. McDaniels like in that he produces a ton of cool highlights/dunks but has some real WTF moments awareness wise. Does well as a small-ball center right now, but struggles in two-big lineups. Hope the coaching staff can bring him along.
- As a sort of general premise, the team played pretty okay basketball tonight and just couldn't hit shots. I can live with that any day of the week, regardless of the head-scratching decisions and disheartening performances by several rotation guys. Lends hope as the team continues to add guys like Wroten and Kendall Marshall into the mix.