SALT LAKE CITY - The frustration level for Brett Brown didn't exactly reach a boiling point after Saturday's loss to the Utah Jazz, but there were many things that seemed to be poking at him. Though he will always put a positive spin on the hard times surrounding him with this 76ers team, Saturday seemed different.
Before the game, he announced that Joel Embiid would be sent back to Philadelphia to continue his rehab from a broken foot there rather than finish out the last week of this 2-week, eight-game road trip with the team. Brown said all the right things about how it's easier for the team to have Embiid on a regular schedule at home, where he can be better evaluated on a daily basis, and so on and so forth.
But it's not as if this road trip crept up on the Sixers. It's not as if they didn't know they were going to have a hectic travel schedule, as they always do this time of the year. So it's not a stretch to believe that there could be something more to this.
Then, Brown's returning rookie of the year, Michael Carter-Williams, shot 2-for-20 in the 88-71 loss, and project Nerlens Noel scored just five points (though he did grab 10 rebounds), and missed some time after twisting an ankle in the second half. It all helped lead to another loss, the 25th in 29 games for the Sixers.
Yesterday the team traveled to San Francisco to get ready for tomorrow's game with the 24-5 Golden State Warriors. It was a day to reflect, take a deep breath and try to learn something from the Utah disaster in which the Jazz (10-20) outscored the Sixers by 19-5 in the last 5 1/2 minutes.
"Our offense struggles," Brown said. "Our defense keeps us hanging around. Even the 88 points, which is bearable, got kind of inflated when they hit a few threes at the end. You think you've held them to a low enough margin to find a win. I credit some of their defense, but we just have a hard time scoring."
As he tells his team to do, Brown will put the game behind him and move forward. But this one yielded some lessons that he wants to make sure his players absorb.
"The thing that stands out most for me is you see the learning lesson that when you get in at 3 in the morning, after losing the night before [in Portland], then you come on the road, there's a mental toughness that our guys have to learn to navigate through. This is the NBA.
"We came out in the third, and I give our guys credit, we took a lead. We were down 12 and we find a way to compete and claw our way back in it, on the road. And we just couldn't sustain it. It's a really true learning lesson that young guys have to understand, especially on this side of the [NBA] world, the West Coast. The Western Conference has got a lot of good teams."
It sounds crazy to think MCW could get anything out of a night like he had, which also included six turnovers. But after the game he reflected on the night he had and how it might help him moving forward.
"I knew I wasn't having a great shooting night, but I didn't want to shy away from it," said Carter-Williams, who finished with eight points and six assists. "That's worse than doing what I did. I didn't shoot the ball very well. I shot 2-for-. I'd rather do that than have an open shot and not shoot the ball and hurt my team that way. I think if I had to do it again, I wouldn't pass up any of the shots, I wouldn't shy away from the game. I would still try to compete and do the best I can.
"It's tough and I just need to bounce back from it and I can't dwell on it. I think it's going to definitely push me to get better. I won't forget moments like this. Every great player says it's the moments like these which make you great. That's what I hope to learn from this."
Said Brown: "He has to find a way, and I have to help him find a way, to navigate through a very freezing cold night. You have a choice as a coach. You can sit him down and say, 'Sorry, it's not your night, Tony [Wroten], you go ahead.' Or you can let him experience the reality of, 'You have to back it up. You have to learn how to get through this. Yep, you're 2-for-20 but your teammates need you and we need you.' We need both him and Nerlens.
"And I thought that, collectively, we need more from them. So decisions were made to let [MCW] keep on moving and go through it. It's just part of the learning curve. He knows, he hurts. He understands how we needed him to have a better game and he just didn't. We tell them that we win together and we lose together and we move on."
There's really no other choice.
Nerlens Noel got X-rays on his ankle after the game and they were negative . . . Luc Mbah a Moute missed Saturday's game with a calf strain and might miss more. Brett Brown said that it is the type of injury you have to be very cautious with . . .
Hollis Thompson, who has been suffering from an upper-respiratory infection for almost a week, was sent back to Philadelphia and will miss the rest of the West Coast games. After the Sixers' game at Golden State tomorrow, they visit Phoenix on Friday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.