After having a day off to rest following their final regular season game, the Philadelphia 76ers held their first practice in preparation for the playoffs on Tuesday. Time to practice as a team has been hard to come by this season with such a condensed schedule and various injuries along the way, so this week is the longest stretch the Sixers have had to practice together (with a fully healthy team) since training camp.
Head coach Doc Rivers confirmed that everyone (including Matisse Thybulle, who missed the last four games with a left hand injury) was available to take part in Tuesday’s practice.
“It’s a training camp for the playoffs,” Rivers said when talking about the extra time to practice this week. “You know, you have a training camp for the regular season, then you have a training camp for the playoffs. They are two different things. Regular season, you’re just learning how to play with each other. For the playoffs, you’re fine tuning what you already know. So that’s what we’re doing.”
Rivers added that the Sixers will probably go hard in practice a couple of days and light on others, with more of a shootaround session on Saturday before their first playoff game on Sunday.
“This period of time, I think, is good for us to maintain our health and rest,” Tobias Harris said. “And then at the same time to be able to get some good work in and to really work on a lot of stuff that we wanted to throughout the year, so it’s important.”
Here are a few takeaways from practice.
Working on transition defense and offensive execution
Doc Rivers said last week that transition defense would be a focus for the Sixers in practice this week and that they’d be working on it for five days. After finishing the season with a dominant half-court defense and the second-best defensive rating in the NBA, yet allowing the second-most fast break points in the league, it’s not surprising.
Tobias Harris reiterated on Tuesday that it’s the priority for the team’s defense this week.
“Number one [focus], transition defense for us. That would be an understatement,” Harris said.
“Transition, communication — that’s another thing. A lot of times we’re out there playing and not using our voices on the defensive end, which has cost us a lot of easy points for other teams. So those two things, I think, will be at the top of the list.
“Then, of top of that, just us knowing each other’s spots on the court and knowing how we can help one another out there,” Harris added. “Obviously we’ll see who we match up with [in the first round] and different guys’ tendencies. But if we can lock down on the transition and our communication, I think we’ll be fine.”
Seeing as the Sixers don’t even know who their first-round matchup will be yet until the play-in tournament has taken place, they’re polishing anything they can.
“We’re pretty much focused on us right now,” Rivers said. “Honestly, let’s say if we knew our opponent, we probably wouldn’t work on our opponent until Thursday anyway. So I would say the first couple of days we really are focused on what we do. But we still work on NBA sets, and in this case there’s what, four teams available [in the play-in], and we probably work on a couple sets that they all run.”
Offensively, Rivers emphasized the importance of polishing off-ball movement and spacing.
“Just making our cuts sharper,” Rivers said. “You know, when different guys have the ball in the post, when different guys have it on the elbow. Cleaning up our execution offensively. I really thought the slippage showed in a great way for us in the last month of the season. I thought a lot of that, we were playing teams with injuries and you just, mentally, you kind of slide, so just getting back to that, I think, is really important for us.”
Rivers was asked if the team needs to work on the offense focused around Joel Embiid and handling different defenses, such as aggressive double teams and zone. Rivers mentioned that he thought the team dealt with this well until the last couple of games, and that they’ll be working on it this week even though it isn’t something that concerns him.
Rivers highlighted that he thought the team became “very lazy” with its spacing and cutting over the last month. In addition to addressing transition defense, sharpening up floor spacing, cutting, and player positioning in different actions and situations is clearly going to be a point of emphasis this week.
Tobias Harris on the Sixers’ improved chemistry
It’s been clear all year that this Sixers team has vastly improved chemistry in comparison to last season. Whether you’re watching the smoother offensive fit of players on the floor, the celebrations of guys on the sidelines, or hearing the players discuss how the team is clicking off the court, the improvement has been huge.
Harris made it clear that he doesn’t dwell on how last season ended, and that the team is focused on the opportunity they have this year.
“There’s an amazing opportunity to be a team in the playoffs, to be a number one seed, there’s expectations with that,” Harris said. “Us as a group, we have a mindset, we have a goal that we want to reach and achieve...
“This organization and ball club has kinda literally been flipped upside down to a new culture, new status, new confidence, new vibe. So here we are, and it’s a great opportunity for myself as a player to be on this special of a team. It’s a blessing. This is our opportunity that we have to do something great, so we’re all looking forward to the moment where we can go out there and play and get ready to go.”
For now, as the play-in tournament unfolds, Harris is going to enjoy the extra time to rest and practice. He said with a laugh that he’s a fan of the play-in tournament because the Sixers aren’t in it, and that it’s going to provide some really good competition and basketball.
“If we were in it, I’d give you a different answer,” Harris joked when giving his thoughts.
Seth Curry’s condition
After being sidelined with COVID-19 in January, Seth Curry has been working to try and get back to his usual self. Fortunately, despite having quieter games here and there, he’s heated up and been more aggressive lately. Over his last 13 games, he’s averaged 14 points in 28.2 minutes per game, shooting 57.1 percent from three on 5.4 attempts a night.
He’s still been more tired than normal at times, though. While Curry mentioned at Tuesday’s practice that he feels good at the moment and has appreciated some extra time off over the last few days, he’s still patiently trying to return to the condition he was in before testing positive with COVID.
“I haven’t had to use an inhaler, but I was seeing what Jayson [Tatum] was saying the other day,” Curry explained. “It’s kind of similar, I guess, like he was saying. It’s hard to explain. I feel a little bit different as a whole, and just the way I breath at times is a little bit different, a little more fatigued. But [I’m] pretty much healthy. Coming back and just trying to work through it. So just trying to be patient with myself and hopefully get back to all the way to the way I was feeling before. But I’m good enough to go and be back out on the floor, so that’s the good part.”