Despite suffering another losing season, the Philadelphia 76ers have made quite an impression coaches and players around the league.
Gregg Popovich got the ball rolling earlier this season.
The San Antonio Spurs’ head coach played the role of mentor to the current Philadelphia 76ers‘ head coach, Brett Brown, from 2002-13.
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And with the Sixers having won 11 of 14 games during a stretch in late January, Popovich was effusive in his praise of Brown and the Sixers:
“It’s one of my joys in life to watch them win basketball games because if there’s any team that deserves it, it’s those guys. They’ve had it really tough for all the obvious reasons, and there’s nobody in our business that is more positive, and more day to day upbeat and ready to teach and love than Brett Brown. He’s a unique, unique guy.”
Just a fortnight later when the Spurs visited Philadelphia, it wasn’t just Popovich heaping praise. The current Spurs’ roster also joined in the chorus of platitudes directed towards Brown.
He’s the most incredible, positive, sort of force that I’ve ever been around in my life…I know how much he loves the game, I know how he teaches, and when I would get down he’d be the positive one to lift me up. It’s just incredible to me that he stayed so even temperament-wise and still is in love with teaching guys. He doesn’t care if it’s somebody who’s a pickup for 10 days or a high draft pick. He just enjoys the process and he just never gives in.”
Manu Ginobili, a 15-year Spurs’ veteran, further heaped praised on the Sixers’ head coach:
“I absolutely love the guy. High-quality coach, even higher quality guy, fun to be around. I’m completely biased talking about him. I really appreciated him. He’s one of my favorite people, not coaches.”
The Sixers’ current Western Conference road trip embodies the positive energy in which Brown outlays to his players. The first stop was taking on the Portland Trail Blazers.
Furthermore, they had won their previous three games–all at home–prior to hosting the Sixers, where they posted 123.3 points per game, good for first in the league in that span.
Despite facing the red-hot Blazers while being significantly depleted, the Sixers were extremely courageous in an overtime loss, 114-108.
Rookie Dario Saric continued with his impressive run of form, posting 28 and nine rebounds, while forward Robert Covington registered 24 points and 13 rebounds.
Next on their agenda were the Los Angeles Clippers, now at full health following the recent return of All-Star point guard Chris Paul. The Sixers put themselves in a great position to pull off an upset, leading 79-75 at the final break.
However a 37-21 final term from the Clippers put the Sixers on their heels for a 112-100 loss.
Following the game, numerous Clippers were quick to note how impressed they were with the Sixers’ performance. Forward Blake Griffinnoted:
“That team is incredibly well-coached and have so much young talent and they play so hard. If you show up and expect to just beat them, you’re going to get beat.”
“People who have never coached have no idea how hard it is to get a team that’s not winning to buy into roles. That is a near impossibility, and yet Brett somehow pulls that off. That is hard to do because the guys who aren’t playing are thinking, ‘I’m coming in, getting my shots.’ There’s a race to be a star on teams like that, through injuries, it’s been impressive to watch.”
Despite coming up short against the Clippers, the Sixers had to back it up again the next night in the same venue against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite being at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, the Lakers are also an up-and-coming team full of young talent trying to establish themselves in the league.
Having quite similar records, it came as no surprise that the game came right down to the wire. However, the Sixers’ were able to prevail 118-116 behind another enormous game from Saric, who posted 29 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Also encouraging for Brown and the Sixers was the play of second-year big man Jahlil Okafor.
Starting at center, Okafor notched 23 points and four rebounds in 27 minutes of action. Over the three games to this point of the road trip, Okafor has averaged 17.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in just 25.5 minutes per game.
When asked post-game to try to envisage how his young core group of players will perform in the years to come, Brown replied:
“This league is punishing when it matters … they’re still young. And my first instinct is how much they still have to learn.”
The final stop on this road trip ends in Oakland to take on the Golden State Warriors. The Sixers met the Warriors just more than two weeks ago, falling 119-108 in a highly competitive game.
“They play hard. They have some talent to work around. Hopefully they have some consistency with their roster going forward and getting guys healthy. One thing about them, you’ve got to compliment their energy and effort and fight every night they play.”
“You’ve got to give this team a lot of credit. They’re going to be really, really, really good. I mean, they’re missing Embiid and Ben Simmons and they’re really on their way.”
Despite the Warriors being without All-Star forward Kevin Durant for their upcoming matchup, the Sixers can again use this experience as a way of measuring their progress against the best competition in the league, and to finish off a highly impressive Western Conference road swing.