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January 29, 2016

Sixers notes: Warriors, Okafor returns, and Porzingis blew off Hinkie?

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During Friday’s Sixers practice at PCOM, Ish Smith was chatting with associate head coach Mike D’Antoni about a bit of defensive strategy. Smith wanted to know how far away from the basket he should pick up Steph Curry, the reigning MVP and most likely greatest shooter of all-time.

“[D’Antoni] said, ‘They get in around 5 o’clock today, you need to go pick him up then,’” Smith said.

The 42-4 Golden State Warriors are the greatest show in sports and they’re bringing the best offense in the NBA to Philly for their yearly appearance on Saturday. And after studying the Dubs, Brett Brown is asking the same question on everyone else’s mind.

“How the hell do we guard that?”

Since Christmas, the Philadelphia 76ers have been an average defensive team. Considering how they started out the season, that is an accomplishment. But Golden State, which employs the second-fastest pace in the league per, puts a crazy amount of pressure on any team’s transition defense.

The Sixers (6th in pace) don’t necessarily mind that. They like to get up and down, too. After Friday’s practice at PCOM, Smith (sporting a fresh cut, by the way) expressed that he generally needs to force tempo against most Eastern Conference foes. On the other side of the coin, the Sixers at least have a willing dance partner when they face many teams from out west like the Dubs.

As the league’s gold standard, there isn’t just one key (or two, or three) to stopping the Warriors. But Brown believes that the number one thing that you have to do against Golden State is find their three-point shooters — Curry, Green, Klay Thompson, Brandon Rush, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, etc. — in transition, no matter who ends up guarding who.

“You’re not going to have to go back to your man,” Brown said. “You can be cross-matched a lot, they just run hard and wide. And so Nerlens could end up on Steph [Curry] and Ish on Draymond [Green] and that’s just the way it goes.”

When the Warriors get in the halfcourt, the Sixers can’t lose Thompson and Curry running off a zillion screens at full speed. This is much easier said than done. Again, it’s not a mistake that Golden State is on pace to win 74 games. 

“Making sure we don’t get detached from our guy,” Noel said. “Especially Steph Curry and Klay Thompson like to run right under the basket, do that little twirl thing and separate. We have to stay attached.”

Like all champions, Golden State is an elite two-way team so the main way that the Sixers can keep them out of transition is by running good offense. That task is much easier said than done, and it will fall primarily upon Smith’s shoulders.

Smith, who played AAU with Curry in North Carolina, sees the MVP as a much different player than even at this time last year.

“Now you start believing, ‘I’m really this good,’ not out of pride but out of confidence,” Smith said.

Other notes

•    Jahlil Okafor, who missed the last two games with a stomach flu, was back at practice. He also went to PCOM on Thursday and got some shots up. It will be interesting to see how Brown deploys Okafor and Noel against the Golden State’s small-ball lineups. We could see a lot of wing-heavy lineups against the Dubs.

“The team is great and Jahlil is great,” Brown said. “But when you get into matchups that are that noticeable and doesn’t favor us, you fix them. You might have to split them up, and that’s what you do.”

•    The idea that Kristaps Porzingis and his agent Andy Miller wanted nothing to do with the Sixers has been floated around before, but Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski (who launched a new site today) reported details that I hadn't read:

"You said that I would get a meeting with him here," Hinkie told Miller.

"I said, 'I'd try,' and it's not going to work out, Sam," Miller responded.

An awkward silence lingered, the GM and agent, standing and staring. The Porzingis camp wanted no part of the Sixers' situation at No 3. Miller couldn't stop Philadelphia from drafting Porzingis, but he could limit the information they had to make a decision. And did. No physical. No meeting. No workout. The Sixers passed on Porzingis on draft night, clearing the way for the Knicks to select him.

•    Joel Embiid was in the gym firing up some flat-footed threes:

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