CLEVELAND - When it was learned that Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten would be returning earlier this month, everyone knew that someone in the guard rotation would suffer a minute shortage. The obvious candidate was T.J. McConnell, the undrafted point guard out of Arizona who parlayed scrappy summer-league play for the Sixers into a roster spot.
The not-so-obvious one would have been Nik Stauskas, the guard the 76ers acquired in an offseason trade who struggled in his rookie season with Sacramento but was envisioned as an outside scoring threat for his new team - a threat that is sorely needed with the inside presence of rookie Jahlil Okafor.
After playing just seven minutes in Friday's home loss to the New York Knicks, Stauskas played only the fourth quarter Sunday in what was another blowout loss, this time by 108-86 to the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday at Quicken Loans Arena. It is unquestionably punishment from coach Brett Brown, no matter how he tries to mask it, as he attempts to get his team to play better defense.
"I just have to give a better effort defensively," said Stauskas, who finished Sunday without attempting a shot. "We can't get blown by on defense. We can't allow wide-open three-pointers. If we can just contain our man from the top of the key, then the bigs don't need help and they can just stay home and everything kind of remains solid. But when we're covering our man at the top of the key and there's a blow by, in this league there's nothing much that you can do once you're playing five-on-four on the backside."
The defense is one thing for the Michigan product, but when his scoring isn't happening either, it's going to be hard for the coach to find time for him on the court.
"I think when you're losing and you're especially unhappy with defense, and you're trying to grow Jahlil how to navigate rim protection and those point guards keeping the game in front of them and the wings, that you appreciate JaKarr (Sampson) more," Brown said. "So he (Stauskas) takes a hit. Something's got to give. The defensive reason is why he's taking a hit."
Nerlens Noel finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Sixers (1-28), who were outscored by 67-35 over the second and third quarters. LeBron James scored 23 and Matthew Dellavedova 20 for the Cavs, who improved to 18-7 in the return game for point guard Kyrie Irving, playing for the first time since breaking his left kneecap in Game 1 of last season's NBA Finals.
"It does feel different," Noel said of this season's losing compared to that of the past. "There are different dynamics to this team and there has been each year. At this point, you worry about what you can control. Us going out on the court, that's coach Brown's job, so I really don't want to speak on it too much. But whoever is on the court, you have to play with what you have.
"Everybody is human. Everybody has their own frustrations, but you stay positive and do your best to keep working through it."
Robert Covington took a hit from LeBron James in the third quarter and fell hard to the floor. Though his head snapped back, his head must not have hit the floor, or the Sixers would have had to go through NBA concussion protocol. Instead, Covington went to the bench for a bit, then returned to the game.
The Sixers will host Memphis on Tuesday, then play at Milwaukee on Wednesday. They'll leave on Christmas to embark on a five-game, eight-day trip out west.
On Twitter: @BobCooney76