In a move that surprised even his players, head coach Maurice Cheeks gave his players Sunday off, sending them back to Philadelphia a day early. After today's practice, which ran from about 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Cheeks closed training camp.
"We got a lot of work done," Cheeks reasoned. "And more than anything, [more] than the work, we had guys that stepped out onto the court and played hard every time they were out there. And I would say it was a tough camp, in terms of all the running we did."
Added Cheeks: "I was trying to get them a day off. As I looked further down the schedule, there wasn’t a lot of room for a day off. I think [this] was the only time they would be able to get a day off. And they worked so hard. Camps are taxing as it is. And you don’t want to break anyone down. You want to get them in shape, but you don’t want to break them down. I thought the reward for that was to give them Sunday off, bring them back Monday."
The Sixers took a bus back to
Philadelphia this afternoon. They will return to the court Monday, 11 a.m. at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (which will henceforth be known as PCOM so I never again have to type the word 'Osteopathic').
Did the players know they were getting a reprieve?
"No," said a smiling Willie Green. "It was a surprise, a great surprise. We're looking forward to getting back to Philly, taking a day off, and then getting back after it."
Today's session ended with a competitive defensive game. A team doesn't score points by actually scoring, but by getting defensive stops, steals, rebounds, and, I assume, charges. The teams were broken down as such:
Black: Andre Miller, Kareem Rush, Andre Iguodala, Cory Underwood, Elton Brand.
White: Lou Williams, Mo Rice, Thad Young, Donyell Marshall, Reggie Evans, and Antywane Robinson.
Yellow: Royal Ivey, Willie Green, Andre Emmett, Marreese Speights, Theo Ratliff, and Jared Reiner.
Back on the first day of camp, one of the Sixers management guys noted that no matter what juncture of the season it is, if you put these guys in a competitive game and keep score, it turns into the NBA Finals. Today was no exception. With no referees, the coaches were responsible for calling fouls. On one play, Elton Brand went to the hoop and he appeared to be fouled by Royal Ivey, who swooped in from helpside.
Brand did not hear a coach call a foul. He walked over to Royal Ivey, towered over him, and said, "You didn't foul me? Really? You seriously didn't think that was a foul?" Ivey said nothing. Brand smiled. From the top of key, Cheeks announced to Brand that, indeed, a foul had been called.
(Let me be clear this was a well-intentioned, high-spirited, competitive exchange between Brand and Ivey.)
After last night's scrimmage, Cheeks said the missing item was high-intensity, pressure defense. This drill is perfect for that because each team wants to get on defense and stay on defense (you only stay on defense if you get a defensive stop).
Observation: Marreese Speights took a hard charge on Elton Brand. Now, I've been keeping an eye on Speights and that's the third charge he has taken in as many days. For a rookie, to be in the right spot like that, is an ability I guarantee the coaches have noted. He may not be piling up the points, but you can't teach what Speights has done in terms of thinking on defense and getting himself into the right position. It's a small thing, but I bet he gains confidence each time he takes one. Oh, and, to stay in the lane when you know Brand is coming at you with a lowered shoulder, that says something. Enough on Speights.
While the drill is keyed on defense, a team rotates in on offense and has to score to move to the prized spot on defense. Because of that, you see some solid offensive execution. More than any other play, the Sixers continued to run "Reverse," which we discussed in a previous blog.
This play does not appear to be geared toward Elton Brand, because it involves wings coming off elbow-down screens, but he will get the most out of this play. Keep an eye out for it on Wednesday in
Boston . Miller dribbles right, Iguodala starts on the block and comes off a post downscreen to the top. Iguodala catches and Young comes off a Brand screen on the left side. Perhaps Young is the initial option, but not many defenses are going to be fooled by a simple curl cut. Iguodala will often hold the ball and run a two-man game with Brand on the pinch post (elbow).
Is that enough x's and o's for a Saturday?
The consensus on this camp was the Sixers completed what they needed to complete. There is little else Cheeks, or any of the Sixers coaches, can learn about these guys from practice. Even Cheeks said that he needs the preseason games to determine what his rotation will be.
Ahhh, the rotation. Cheeks had a decent amount to say about that after Saturday's final session.
"I’m going to make a decision on who is going to play and who is not going to play," Cheeks said. "That's what preseason games are for. So I’m going to make that evalutation toward the end of the preseason games. But I’m not going to try and squeeze everybody in. I'm not going to do that because it wouldn’t be fair to the guys playing five minutes or six minutes. They wouldn’t get anything out of it. Whatever decision I make, with that particular rotation of guys, I’m going to do that and go with that."
Will it be game-to-game?
"It won’t change game-to-game, but if someone is not playing well, throw someone else in there. But, whatever number rotation guys I decide on, I’m going to stick with those guys because, again, I don’t think it would be fair."
Added Cheeks: "It’s a good problem to have, except for the guy who is not going to play ..."
We've done a lot of speculation so far on what that rotation will be, but I think at this point we have to wait until Wednesday against the Celtics to get a true feeling for what Cheeks might be thinking.
Cheeks did admit, and obviously this is well-known, that four of the five starting spots are in place. Andre Miller at point guard, Andre Iguodala at "wing", Elton Brand at power forward, and Sam Dalembert at center. (Speaking of Sam, he didn't practice today with a left-shoulder strain and is listed as day-to-day (aren't we all?). But he said after practice he is fine and would be on the court Monday.) So that leaves one starting spot open. The question -- and here I go speculating after I said no speculating -- is whether Iguodala will be the shooting guard and Thad Young the small forward, or whether Cheeks will keep Iguodala at small forward and go with either Willie Green at shooting guard, or maybe Lou Williams?
So that's a wrap from State College, PA. I included this wonderful shot I took of the team at the end of this morning's session. I think it speaks for itself: The final moment on the court at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Blackberry Curve is an amazing device. As you can see, my previous photo did not include a group of humans. Clearly my photography skills are improving.
If there is news tomorrow, I'll definitely post it. But if not, we'll be back up and running on Monday. With the Sixers practicing from 11 a.m. until probably about 1 p.m., we'll probably run the Live Chat around 3 p.m. Once we have the time locked down for the Live Chat, I'll post the link.
Thanks to all you guys who posted throughout the week. It was much appreciated. I am now going to grab a latte from Starbucks and drive back to Philadelphia. Just in time for the first pitch of the Phillies game? I hope so.
Until next time ...