The Future Is Bright For The Philadelphia 76ers

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Losing sucks.

Being mired in a 26-game losing streak this season is more than just growing pains. It’s a losing streak that tied the NBA record and it was a frustrating experience for a young team barren of veteran leaders outside of Thaddeus Young.

But, despite this being a long and mentally exhausting season, it looks like long-term the 76ers will benefit from all the adversity the team and its players saw this season.

“I think all the players have improved” Brett Brown told me when I asked him about his highlights from this season. “It’s based on statistics. If you look at our guys – I don’t need to go through all of them – all of them have done something this year that they haven’t done in the past. Whether it’s an improved free throw percentage or three-point percentage or assist-to-turnover ratio (they’ve gotten better). We also have Nerlens Noel who has really developed while not even playing.

“I look back on this group with joy and tremendous fondness and affection because we have taken hits and they’ve shown they aren’t going to roll over. They are going to play hard tonight again.”

Brown was right as his team fought hard against a team that clearly had more talent. DeMar DeRozan was an all-star this season, Kyle Lowry should have joined DeRozan in New Orleans, and Jonas Valanviunas got some redemption after a horrible 72 hours when he scored a career-high 26 points while grabbing 12 rebounds.

All Philadelphia could do was have potential rookie-of-the year Michael Carter-Williams flirt with a triple-double. Their leading scorer this season, Thaddeus Young, was handcuffed and held relatively ineffective (7-17 from the field) thanks to some solid defense from Patrick Patterson.

Still, Philly was in this game until the final minutes and could have stolen the win. They gave Toronto a scare just like they did to Brooklyn earlier this month.

The Sixers are a young team that can gain a lot from moral victories like the close games against playoff teams like Brooklyn and Toronto.

“I think confidence is everything,” Brown explained. “I hope that we give our guys an empowerment and freedom to go play. I want these guys keeping their heads high and their chests out. They are all NBA players. Everybody talks about their resumes and their experience and their youth. It’s all true but I want them feeling bulletproof. I think the encouragement we give them is huge.”

Sure, the 26-game losing streak stings.

Being 2-8 over their past ten games isn’t much better.

But the future isn’t bleak for the Sixers. They have a talented coach in Brett Brown, a potential rookie of the year in Michael Carter-Williams and a player in Nerlens Noel who many pegged as being the top overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Throw into the mix that the team is likely to have two lottery picks again this June as well as a handfull of second round picks and it’s possible Philadelphia could be back in the playoffs sooner rather than later.

This season was a messy, depressing one for Sixers’ fans, but the future looks bright for the franchise.

Book Excerpt From “Backspin” By Pete Strobl

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My new head coach was Jack Armstrong. He was proof that you can take the guy out of Brooklyn but you can’t get the Brooklyn out of the guy. Keep in mind that my only exposure to the East Coast mannerisms had come through the Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro films I had watched late at night. Keeping up with Coach Armstrong’s speech cadence was tough at first because it was so entertaining. I felt my mellow West Coast vibe slowly dissolving and knew it would be a challenge to keep up with his pace mentally, as well, as physically.

Armstrong was a hard-working guy and a real throwback to what I imagined a barnstorming coach in the fifties might have been like. The one thing about him I learned to count on was his consistency. Well, okay, two things: his consistency, and his extraordinary flair for showmanship. Before we had played half of my first season I realized that he was on a first name basis with every other referee in our conference. The way they went at each other, I got the impression they had all grown up on the same block and had been arguing streetball calls since they were kids.

During the very first game of the year, an official made a call that rubbed Armstrong the wrong way. He executed a move worthy of an Olympic shot putter. No, to be precise, it was much more like an expert hammer throw. He exploded out of his chair, spun around, tore off his suit jacket in mid swing, and before he came around again, the jacket had landed in the third row behind the bench. It’s a good thing Armstrong wore slick-soled dress shoes on game days, because if he had tried that move in sneakers he would have torn his ankles out at the roots. The referee walked over, soothingly put his hand on Jack’s shoulder and explained the call from his vantage point. Armstrong, accepting his jacket from the outstretched hand of a beaming Niagara fan, penitently nodded and patted the ref on the back as if to say, “Oh yeah, well when you explain it like that I can see how you could have blown the call.” I’d seen coaches lose their cool trying to play to the refs many times, but they were just as likely to cross the line and end up listening to the rest of the game from the locker room. My new coach had a real knack for timing his outbursts. And I had never seen anyone with Armstrong’s astounding recovery time.

Later in the season we found ourselves fighting to win a close game that would keep us on pace to have Niagara’s first winning record in nine seasons. With less than a minute left on the clock, Coach Armstrong called our last timeout and we huddled around him to get instructions for what would be our final offensive possession. One of the assistants shoved the dry erase board into his impatient grasp and he was practically writing up a play before the marker touched the board. The marker darted furiously back and forth across the board as he improvised our first, second, and third options on the fly. It was remarkable the way Coach Armstrong’s mind worked. Even more remarkable, all of us, to a man, stood and nodded as if we had a full and complete understanding of this amazing play that not one of us could actually see. In the excitement and gravity of the moment, Jack had scribbled away the entire timeout without realizing he was using a dried out marker. But a small detail like that wasn’t going to prevent us – all of us – from pretending we knew exactly what we wanted us to do. With fire in his eyes and his mouth foaming at the corners, he screamed, “Are you ready?” We answered with a resounding “Let’s go!”

We went on to win that game in the final moments. I don’t know if the play we ran had anything to do with Jack’s invisible ink act but I’m certain his intensity in the timeout is what got us the win. And it’s a good thing it did, because I wouldn’t have envied the person that put the spent marker into Armstrong’s hand if we had run out the final seconds of the game bumping into each other and acting like Jack had just drawn up an invisible play.

This was an excerpt from Backspin by Pete Strobl. Copyright 2013 by Pete Strobl. Reprinted with permission from The Scoring Factory.

Dwane Casey Isn’t Worried About Loss To Phoenix Suns

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The Toronto Raptors lost 121-113 to the Phoenix Suns this afternoon and there were be plenty of things to be worried about.

With the Phoenix Suns rising from the ashes of the Western Conference cellar this season, the NBA Betting odds were in favour of the Suns. It’s not like the Raptors were expected to win.

Still, it was a game that was ugly to watch and showed a lot of possible glaring weaknesses for the Raptors moving forward.

Jonas Valanciunas scored 11 points in the first quarter but only attempted three field goals over the final three quarters. After going 6-8 from the field in the opening quarter his teammates decided to ice him out.

In the fourth Kyle Lowry took a couple of knees to his head and had to be helped off the court. No foul was called on the play and Dwane Casey nearly picked up a technical for arguing with the refs too much.

There’s also the fact DeMar DeRozan is starting to show the signs of fatigue after averaging a career-high 38.1 minutes per game this season. DeRozan went 6-16 from the field against Phoenix and 4-12 against Memphis.

This month DeRozan has shot lower than 40% from the field in five of seven games so far this month. It’s clear he’s battling through tired legs that is taking away some of the lift from his legs when he is shooting.

The big issue is that Toronto’s defence is showing signs of slippage. Toronto gave up 121 points while allowing Phoenix to make 50% of their field goal attempts and 47% of their shots beyond the arc (11-23).

Still, after the game Casey pulled his best Alfred E Newman impression.

“It’s not a systemic problem,” Casey told the media after the loss. “It’s not a situation where we should panic. It’s one game. We knew we weren’t going to go undefeated the rest of the way. That team right there are fighting for the playoff lives like we are and they are a quality team. It’s not like it’s the end of the world. We gave it our best shot.”

True, the world isn’t ending, but there are cracks in the foundation and Toronto’s core.

It’s nice that Casey wants to dismiss the problems – and maybe they are just the result of playing a tough Western Conference team – but the culmination of everything that went wrong is reason for concern.

Hopefully the team rallies in Atlanta and New Orleans this week and proves Casey was right.