76ers Blog: Pre-Game Notes ~ 3/4/2014 @ Oklahoma City Thunder
3/4/2014 6:36:00 PM
The 76ers (15-45; 5th-Atlantic Division, 15th-Eastern Conference) finish a quick two-game road trip with their lone stop of the season at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the typically-raucous home court of the Oklahoma City Thunder (45-15; 1st-Northwest Division, 1st-Western Conference). The Sixers will face a steep challenge as they attempt to halt their 14-game slump, taking on the top team in the Western Conference. Oklahoma City has won nine straight against the Sixers, including a January 25th meeting at the Wells Fargo Center; Kevin Durant had 32 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists in the 103-91 victory, posting the fifth triple double of his career.
On Sunday, the Sixers looked like they were poised to end the longest losing streak in the NBA this season. They carried a three-point edge into the fourth quarter against the Orlando Magic, only to see that lead slip away in a 92-81 loss. The Sixers had managed to win 12 times in the previous 20 games they were ahead after three periods.
This evening, the Thunder close out a season-high tying six-game homestand. The Thunder have been at home since returning from the All-Star Game break, but their results during this stretch have been mixed. Oklahoma City first endured a season-worst three-game slide, falling to the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively. Since those setbacks, though, the Thunder have rebounded for victories over the Memphis Grizzlies and Charlotte Bobcats.
A subject that's come up in recent Brett Brown news conferences is the extent to which he feels his players have competed. After the Sixers finished 20 points short against the NBA-worst Milwaukee Bucks last Monday, Brown bluntly said his team's showing was "poor." That defeat was followed by an 11-point loss to the Orlando Magic, and a 19-point loss to the playoff-hopeful Washington Wizards. The Sixers then failed to capitalize on a fourth quarter lead Sunday, ultimately bowing to the Magic again.
Even though the Sixers couldn't finish off Orlando, Brown - in breaking down his group's performance - observed improvement in the area of effort.
"Very pleased with their energy," said Brown at the Amway Center, where the Sixers fell 92-81. "Any time we can look up and someone ends the game with 90-something points, that's a winnable game. We poked ourself in the eye with our turnovers. Some of it is just frustration and forcing. Some of it is the realities of the landscape, and we're all new. All in all, I thought the energy from the group was pretty good."
Brown re-emphasized to reporters today that he was encouraged to see his players engaged with some of the subtleties of Sunday's game, despite the eventual outcome.
"When you really look at the good teams, and you watch teams that play in June and May, they all get that. That's what separates really good teams. I want to encourage that. Whether we can get [the Sixers' players] to do that, that's on them. Towel-swingers, bench-greeters, assist-acknowledgers, those our welcomed on our team. I thought they did that the other night, and played with great energy, and our defense was fine."
Prior to Sunday, the Sixers hadn't allowed less than 100 points since their last win, which was a January 29th 95-94 victory at the Boston Celtics. The Orlando game was just the seventh time overall this season that the Sixers - which give up a league-high 110.7 points per game - didn't spot the opposition triple digits.
Oklahoma City has been forced to play half of its 60 games without All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. He sat out a couple games in the opening weeks of the season to finish rehabbing the left knee meniscus tear he suffered during the 2013 NBA Playoffs. More recently, he was sidelined for 27 games after having his right knee scope. Westbrook returned to action five games ago.
"We're getting back to it. It's a little slower than we all want, but it's nothing that we won't get back to," said head coach Scott Brooks, referring to the Thunder getting re-acclimated to Westbrook. In Sunday's victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, Westbrook delivered his best showing since his being reactivated, scoring 26 points and shooting 10-12 from the field. Oklahoma City had dropped its first three games with Westbrook back in the rotation.
"I thought Russell really had a great command of the game," Brooks said. "It's good to see him continue to get his game legs under him. I thought he really controlled the game."
"Trying to take my time," said Westbrook of going about recapturing his form from December, before his second surgery. "Whenever a shot is given to me, try to take it. But, at the same time, just take my time and knock them down."
"He had to get a rhythm," teammate Kevin Durant said following the win against Charlotte. "Every player that misses that much time has to get a rhythm for the game, timing right. He was phenomenal. He was great. He was aggressive and playing down hill on the pick and rolls. He was just great, and that was good to see."
Click the audio link below the image in the upper right corner of the article to hear 76ers swingman Hollis Thompson talk about matching up with Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma CIty Thunder.