Brett Brown: ‘There is an art to learning how to win'

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MINNEAPOLIS — Like anything else in the NBA, winning is a skill. There is an art to becoming a consistent winner in the league and developing it can sometimes take some time.

At least that’s the sense one gets from watching the Sixers this season. At 0-14 and with 24 straight losses, the Sixers are knocking on the door of that elusive first win of the season only to have it slammed in their faces.

How can the Sixers get through November with a win? Better yet, how can the Sixers get a win before they reach the all-time record for consecutive losses with 26?

“You go through things on how to win a game. I feel like these guys have done a really good job and I think the coaching staff has gone overboard on how to compete,” coach Brett Brown said after Monday’s shootaround at the Target Center. “To lose the volume over the past two years and 14 games, the group has stayed together and gained the respect of the NBA opponents because they play to the end and they play hard. I feel like they should be proud of that.”

But they would be prouder with a few more wins.

Surely, the Sixers have had chances. They led in Milwaukee with 1:29 to go in the game, had a puncher’s chance late in San Antonio, were tied against Dallas with three minutes to go and led by 11 points with seven minutes to go on Saturday night in Miami.

The turning point in those games was the paper-thin difference between experience and youth. It also helped that players like Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could step up and deliver those wins against the upstart Sixers.

Who is the guy to step up for the Sixers?

“Jahlil (Okafor) is the most obvious one, but you can’t promise that defenses will allow that,” Brown said. “The responsibility to give an NBA offense to a 19-year-old and say, ‘Go ahead, bring us home,’ is not really fair. So teams scheme, they double team and we have to react.”

Not only is Okafor just 19 and not even two years out of high school, but he is also a post player. Setting up defenses for a player like Okafor, who is dependent on someone else to get him the ball, is a lot easier than stopping a player on the wing.

“Scheming on a post player is a helluva a lot easier than scheming on an iso guy like Durant or Kobe. When that guy can see the floor, it’s hard to come double on that guy,” Brown said. “You can come from wherever you want to double a post player. Jahlil is commanding double teams.”

The Sixers, meanwhile, have not been able to deliver without their step-up guy. Nerlens Noel shoots just 40 percent from the field with less than six minutes to go in the fourth quarter and just 26.7 percent in the final quarter when the deficit is 10 points or less. Isaiah Canaan is a 33-percent shooter in the final six minutes of games, Nik Stauskas is a 28.6-percent shooter in the same situation.

Only Okafor (60.7-percent shooter in the final six minutes) and T.J. McConnell (8 for 11 when the Sixers are within 10 points in the fourth quarter) have thrived in crunch time.

“We get a little bit gun shy because we haven’t been in that position before,” Brown said. “We have to play not hoping that the clock runs out, but we have to play with a pace and a spirit and confidence and then we have a better chance. And you see the great players step up then. Dirk stepped up, Duncan stepped up, Dwyane and Bosh stepped up. You look at our bunch of 20-year olds and wonder who is going to step up. The most likely candidate is Jahlil.”

But like everything else with the Sixers, it’s a process. If the Sixers are going to get there and actually win some games there will be a learning curve.

“We taught them how to compete and now we have to teach them how to win. How to close out a game,” Brown said. “There is an art to learning how to win. There is an experience once you do win that probably help the next one a little bit more.”

Right now it’s just a matter of getting that first one.

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