There is only a small portion of practice open to reporters, mainly the part where players have free rein of the gym, and the savvy ones use it to work on perimeter shooting since they know they are being watched.
Professional hoopers tend to find the bottom of the net when left unguarded. Sixers vet P.J. Tucker took full advantage of the period after Tuesday’s session as he fired off corner triple after corner triple. Danuel House would later retrace his teammate’s steps as Tucker prepped for a press conference.
Across the way, on a side court, Georges Niang was tossing what appeared to be a stress ball off the backboard while Furkan Korkmaz stood at the foul line and laughed. Jalen McDaniels was launching jumpers off in the distance.
James Harden was in the gym, too. He was dribbling the ball into oblivion and working on his stutter-step on a nearby court as he and his trainers bantered, with a wry smile sort of poking through his trademark beard.
Practice? Are we really talking about practice? Kind of. You see, the Philadelphia 76ers are getting ready to take on the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA playoffs.
The expectation, from front office to the parking lot, is a world championship. The Sixers are trying to shed the dreaded choke label and show everyone they can advance past the second round for the first time since 2001. Before they do that, the Sixers have to survive the first round.
So, it was critically important to note the atmosphere inside the Sixers’ practice facility three days ahead of Game 1. How were the vibes? Well, they seemed to be immaculate as players talked about paying attention to the smallest detail.
“It’s all detail-oriented,” Tucker said. “The playoffs, you get to focus in on a team, their style of play, what you want to do, and how you can be effective and efficient throughout the series, game by game, and just build on that. Get better and better and better to be able to help your team have a chance to win, so it’s just that real fine attention to detail.”
Heightened nerves stemming from increased pressure to win a title sometimes have a way of creeping in. Not this group. Not yet. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers set the mood early with a joke when asked about trying to snatch secrets out of Nets guard Seth Curry who doubles as his son-in-law.
“I’m gonna see if I can get something out of him, but Seth rarely talks,” Rivers said. “So I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna get anything out of him, but I’m gonna ask my granddaughter. Maybe she talks to him, and she can tell me some stuff. You never know.”
Jalen McDaniels: Prepping for First Playoff Series
Sixers wing Jalen McDaniels is gearing up for his first postseason series after participating in the play-in tournament for Charlotte. This isn’t that. He senses a powder keg in Game 1, fueled by a crazy Philly crowd and guys looking to kill or be killed. He can’t wait.
“Today this was my first real playoff practice, and it was way different. Guys were locked in,” McDaniels said. “And that’s another thing, like messing up, we mess up, and we’re going again, we’re not going to stop it and say it’s good. We’re going to be perfect on everything, that’s what I noticed. There’s a lot more time, there’s a lot more focus, and we have to be a lot more sharp.”
Play-In Tournament: Upsets and Sloppiness Set the Stage
If this year’s play-in tournament is any indicator of things to come, then buckle up. Wow. The Atlanta Hawks upset the Miami Heat on April 11 to lock up the No. 7 seed in the East in a game that featured 40 fouls. Then, on the same night, the Los Angeles Lakers erased a 15-point deficit to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves and secure the No. 7 seed in the West.
“Just watching the play-in games. Just locking in on the little things,” Tucker said. “Taking the ball out of bounds, little sloppy turnovers.”
The Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder won on April 12, keeping their playoff hopes alive and setting up a Bulls-Heat matchup and Thunder-Timberwolves matchup to settle the No. 8 seeds. Once those contests go final, the real postseason tournament can begin.
“Just embrace it. Embrace every round. Embrace every moment,” Tucker said. “Don’t take any of it for granted. You can have a streak of going a long time and not getting to the playoffs, so … it’s an opportunity. It’s a blessing. And you need to take full advantage.”
By all accounts, the Sixers are locked in and ready for their first-round matchup.