The NBA has made it a priority to grow the league into an international brand, and part of that mission is a select number of games played internationally.
The Sixers will have very little time to themselves once they touch down in London Tuesday morning. There will be events, photo ops, a nonstop barrage of carefully planned appointments from the NBA’s itinerary.
The players will have family members with them, they’ll be in one of the world’s most notable tourism cities, and there will be plenty of distractions. But there’s still business to take care of.
At the center of the London trip is Thursday’s game between the Sixers and the Boston Celtics at The O2 Arena, and winning that game is really the only thing that matters to the Sixers.
“There’s a very detailed plan that we have in place,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said Monday after practice in Camden, just hours before he and the team boarded their flight to London. “We’re going to walk that line of it being a family thing and a very collective, enjoyable trip. But we’re still of the mindset that we are going there to beat the Boston Celtics.”
The Celtics (33-10), who sit atop the Eastern Conference, are on a six-game winning streak and there’s no doubt that they are also focused on winning. That just means the Sixers, who sit at ninth in the East, have to focus on what’s been going right and how they can stay hopeful for the future.
Brown said that in the days leading up to their trip across the Atlantic, the team has focused on continuing to cut down on turnovers, working hard in practice to defend without fouling, and increased defensive intensity for the players not named Joel Embiid.
Embiid practiced with the team on Monday after taking Sunday off. With the big man available at practice, Markelle Fultz’s increased participation, Justin Anderson’s return to the lineup, and the overall health of the team improving, the Sixers feel that they are on the right track and that their potential has not been reached just yet.
“It’s Joel on a part-time basis and Markelle is still not into the mix,” Brown said. “I think that we’re in a good place, but it’s certainly not as good as I’ve ever felt. But I feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”
Embiid added that he is looking forward to the London trip for a multitude of reasons, but that the most important one was getting the win. He added that as he continues to get healthy, he hopes his availability for back-to-back games will be 100 percent by February.
With their own four-game win streak, the Sixers are hoping to return stateside on a positive note, which is why veteran JJ Redick said even though the trip to London is special, it’s still a business trip and a very good team stands in the way of making it a success.
“This is a regular-season game, we’re not going over there to put on a show,” Redick said. “It’s going to be a business trip with the intent of trying to win a basketball game.”