Before Sixers games, coach Brett Brown walks in front of his bench and looks into the stands to assess the vibe of the crowd. He tells reporters about this routine often, and loves to describe the contrast between the crowd for home games and the crowd for many of their away games.
“On purpose, I walk down the bench before the start of games, as the starters go on the floor, and I go to my bench and I say, ‘There are pockets of empty seats,’ " Brown said Tuesday after practice. “There ain’t no pockets in Philadelphia.”
“Even when we were average, they brought it,” he said of the team’s supporters. “It is an environment: Philadelphia, the building, and the fans. And I wind our guys up to deliver, like we got a responsibility to play here.”
The Sixers (8-5) have a larger than usual responsibility this week as they return home from a rough road trip, which included losses to the Orlando Magic (6-7) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (5-8) followed by a much-needed, 114-95 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers (4-9) on Sunday. They will be back at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday to take on the New York Knicks (4-10) in the first of 13 home games in an 18-game stretch.
After a promising start to the season and early NBA title buzz, the 76ers have struggled recently with turnovers, three-point shooting, fouls, and defense. Before Sunday, they’d lost five of their last seven games, and have gone 4-5 on the road. They fell from the No. 1 spot in The Inquirer’s NBA power rankings. and this week aren’t even in the top 10.
After practice at the team facility in Camden on Tuesday, the players reflected on what home-court advantage does for their collective psyche. Of course, the environment can’t fix all of their on-court issues, but they said the comfort of home, paired with the intensity of Philly fans, helps them push harder and to be more focused.
“We love playing at home,” said forward Tobias Harris, who went 12-for-14 shooting and had 27 points in the Cleveland win. “We want to protect our court.”
Al Horford, the team’s new power forward/center who’s averaging 15 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, agreed.
“Being on the road is hard,” he said. “Just being able to come home, have our fans rally behind us, it’s good for the team.”
The Sixers have played nine of their first 13 games on the road. They have yet to lose at home and hope to keep that streak going this week. They play the Knicks on Wednesday, followed by the San Antonio Spurs (5-9) Friday and the Miami Heat (9-3) Saturday.
All in all, Brown said it’s not the end of the world that the team is struggling a bit at this “pre-Thanksgiving” point in the season. He believes the team is built for April and May.