The first meeting between the Sixers and the Mavericks was, well, bad. It was bad in every facet of the game, which you would expect in a 53 point loss.
Offensively, the Sixers shot only 29.9% from the field, turned the ball over 27 times, and scored 70 points on 77 field goal attempts. Defensively, they allowed the Mavericks to shoot 51.3% from the field and gave up 11 three pointers. The 70.3 offensive rating for the Sixers was their lowest of the season, and the 123.5 defensive rating the third worst.
Individually, Michael Carter-Williams, appearing in his first game of the season after returning from surgery to repair a torn labrum, struggled, shooting 6-19 from the field while committing 6 turnovers to his 5 assists.
It was just a matter of shaking off the rust, we all hoped. But the struggles lasted longer than many had anticipated, causing anxiety among a fan base cheering for a team that has very few known quantities at this point. It wasn't just that he was struggling with his shot, as it wasn't entirely unexpected for him to struggle after so much time off, it was the way he was playing. With his usage rate hovering in the mid-30's, Michael Carter-Williams wasn't playing the style that many thought he should be.
Including his coach.
"He tried to force feed so much when he first came back in, so I'm hoping he can take a deep breath," Brett Brown said about Michael Carter-Williams before the Mavericks game. "I hope that Michael feels some level of empowerment again. That he understands he's our point guard, that he has to pass the ball and lead us.
"I see that as a possible benefit with Tony [Wroten] not being here, that Michael's going to see things a little differently," Brown said.
The opposite was also true. Tony Wroten is leading the team in scoring, at 17.9 points per game. With the Sixers, already last in the league in offensive efficiency, after losing such a focal point of their offense the chance is there for Carter-Williams to try to do too much.
"He could. I hope he doesn't," Brown said before the game. "I hope that not having Tony doesn't flip his world and think he's got to come out and get 40. That isn't it at all. His teammates need to want to play with him, and enjoy playing with him, and have confidence in him.
"Pass the ball. No matter what, pass the ball," Brown said about how he prefers Carter-Williams to play. "You might have a good [shot], but this guy's got a great one. You have to trust your teammates.
"When you have a team that's been losing games, I feel that, and I admitted this to the team, if we don't pass that scares me almost more than anything," Brown said before the game. "The locker room stays together. They co-exist, they work hard at practice, this is a great group. When it gets to the point where it's a selfish group, and the ball doesn't move, plus you're losing, you've got problems."
Those statements proved almost prophetic. Carter-Williams had dialed back his reckless abandon against the Nets. Despite shooting only 1-9 from the field for his 4 points, Carter-Williams had nearly as many assists (8) as field goal attempts (9), setting up his teammates and taking care of the ball. His previous two games, against the Knicks and Suns, saw comically low assist rates for a point guard, at 7.1% and 10.6%. His usage rate had been staggeringly high, with 44.3% against the Suns, 28.7% against the Knicks, and 39.3% against the Blazers, the games immediately preceding that role-reversal against the Nets.
The Dallas game was the high mark of the season. While Carter-Williams shot only 4-13 from the field he was able to get to the line 12 times to salvage a semi-efficient 18 points. His usage rate was a much more manageable 26.2%, and he piled on 16 assists in his 34-and-change minutes, yielding an assist rate of 72.4%.
In back-to-back games, Carter-Williams has had a usage rate of 20.6% and 26.2%, with assist rates of 44.7% and 72.4%. He passed the ball 89 times on 117 touches against the Mavericks. Over the last two games, Carter-Williams has passed the ball on 77.4% of his touches. He had only passed the ball on 64% of his touches over his first seven games. That looks much more like the point guard that won rookie of the year last year.
And it yielded the most success for the team as well. The 115 offensive rating Michael Carter-Williams had against the Mavericks was by far his best of the season. In fact, it was his first time over 100, and only the second time over 90. The team scored on 38% of their half-court possessions, whereas they scored on only 28% of their half-court possessions the first time these two teams met. They were able to score 103 points despite getting only 13 of them off of turnovers.
To cap it off, Michael Carter-Williams then picked up his 10th rebound with 1:34 left in the game to give him his triple-double, finishing the night with 18 points, 16 assists, and 10 rebounds. It was the third triple-double of Michael Carter-Williams' career.
"I'm so thrilled and happy for him that he fixed some of the things that we had talked about. He just played far more under control," Brett Brown said about his performance after the game. "He had a hell of a game."
Despite all of this, the Sixers fell in the end, picking up their 16th straight loss to start the season, a franchise record. They sit only 2 games away from tying the NBA record for futility to start the season, which they could tie Wednesday at Minnesota and set Friday at home against the Thunder.
Despite that, the team doesn't seem too phased by setting the record.
"I went and I asked my guys yesterday 'Tell me the team that started the year with the longest losing streak', and one of them knew. 'Tell me 3 of the players one that team', nobody really knew. I said 'Tell me the general manager', none of them knew. I said 'Tell me the owners', none of them. I said 'Tell me the coach', most of them knew," Brown explained, laughing about the joke at the end.
"Here I am, I'm fine, and I don't want those guys worrying about any record," Brown said. "I have so much respect for that group in that room because their spirit has not been broken, and I hope that their performance on the court reflects that.
"It's painful to lose. But you know what, nobody's pointing fingers, and nobody's accusing anybody of anything. This group stays together," Brown said.
"We're heartbroken we haven't won, you can't dismiss that. It hurts me terribly. I feel for the city. We want to get it right. But down deep I feel like I know something that's going on that I like," Brown went on to say. "I think that they will be rewarded for the work that they're putting in. I hope it's sooner than later to validate their efforts."
Odds and Ends
- Turnovers, and transition defense, were once again a killer for the Sixers. The Mavericks scored 27 points on the Sixers 24 turnovers, whereas the Sixers were limited to only 13 points scored off of turnovers the Mavericks committed
- I went this far without mentioning K.J. McDaniels, which was almost criminal. The rookie finished the night with 21 points and 13 rebounds, both career highs, while shooting 2-3 from three point range. He was the first perimeter player since Dominique Wilkins in 1991 to have 9 offensive rebounds and 2 blocked shots in a game. (Note: Both his offensive rebounding totals, and his field goal attempts, were increased due to one possession where he had 4 tip-in opportunities).
- Nerlens Noel had 10 points (5-10 shooting), 9 rebounds, and 1 block. He made another baseline jumper, which he's been doing more regularly of late. The Mavericks challenged him at the rim 9 times, shooting only 33.3% when doing so.
- Jerami Grant made his first appearance of the season, although he only played a little over 2 minutes. Brown says that he sees Grant getting more minutes at the 4 due to a combination of the current construction of the roster and the difficult transition it is from a college power forward to an NBA small forward, but that they're developing him to play both positions.
- Alexey Shved had his best game of the season, finishing with 18 points (5-9, 2-4 three point) and 4 assists, despite getting very inconsistent playing time of late.
- The 16 assists were a career high for Michael Carter-Williams.
- The Sixers scored 100 points once in the first 13 games of the season, but have done so twice in the last 3 games.
- K.J. McDaniels previous high was 6 rebounds.
- The Sixers and Mavs are on the see-saw. The two teams have now played 67 games against each other, with Dallas leading the way with 34 wins to the Sixers 33.
Video - Brett Brown post game press conference