THE ACTIONS not long after the 76ers had lost their final preseason game to the Boston Celtics, 81-65, in New Hampshire on Friday night kind of summed up where the two teams are right now.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens met with reporters almost immediately after the game, talked of giving his players the rest of the weekend off before getting ready for Wednesday's season opener against the Sixers. Not long after Stevens was done, his players were showered, and walked eagerly and happily to their waiting bus.
As the Celtics were departing, Sixers coach Brett Brown still hadn't made his way to his media obligation. Team trainers and doctors and a few players made their way to the other side of the hallway, Robert Covington on crutches after hurting his knee, Jahlil Okafor with a big ice bag on his chest after getting a shoulder from Jared Sullinger. The Celtics had pulled away from the Verizon Wireless Center in Manchester, rolling toward the regular season. The Sixers sat battered and bruised and will be slowly limping into Boston for Brett Brown's third campaign.
The team said after Sunday's workout at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine that Nik Stauskas (right tibia stress reaction), Scottie Wilbekin (groin) and Furkan Aldemir (foot) were limited at practice. It appears pretty doubtful Stauskas will be ready for Wednesday, while the other two Sixers are battling to make the team with cuts coming on Monday in which the Sixers will have to chop five players.
Also, Covington's MRI revealed an MCL sprain and bone bruise that will likely sideline him for close to a couple of weeks. Covington suffered the injury in a fall late Friday night against the Celtics.
"It just stares us right in the face," said Brown of crawling toward opening night. "It's part of pro sport. Nobody is crying around here. This is not a pity party. We will take what we have and we will coach it and we will try to find a way to go win. Soon, over time, people will come back. We just had Nik Stauskas delivered to the gym today to play a little bit. That's a good thing.
"Truly, if you told me when Robert fell that he was going to be out for a few weeks, I would have hugged anybody around me and said, 'Thank you.' Any time you see somebody wincing and holding their knee, you think the worse. This is a good thing in my eyes. There is daylight and I see us with a group in totality, a healthy group in totality, I think we can move this group further along than any of the groups that I have coached."
You have to admire the man's optimism, but reality certainly will strike Wednesday. Brown will enter his third season with Isaiah Canaan as the starting point guard while Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall work back from winter ACL surgeries; with his best two shooters (Stauskas and Covington) most likely in street clothes; and with his two big men, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, quite unfamiliar with each other as they have both missed time with injury.
"It's not like we are a high scoring team to begin with, so you take a real punch in the gut," said Brown. "But you keep moving. So you take the group that we have and we're injured and we're behind. We're especially behind offensively. So, without Robert Covington for a while it obviously hurts, but we've got to try to just find what best areas we can exploit with the group that we have.
"It's taking what we started doing and just making it better. In many ways with this group, less is more. We talk so much about pace, space and pass, you try to never let those core beliefs leave us as it relates to offense. You just have to keep doing it and doing it. I can see, once we get healthy, we can move this group further along more than any of the other groups that I've coached here. But there is no group that has started that is as far behind than the group that we have right now just because of injury and the fact that they haven't played together. It most rears its head on offense."
Brown left out the word ugly, but many were, no doubt, thinking it, especially after the 65 points posted Friday.