PHILADELPHIA — Technically, the two conversations were about the same subject matter. Brett Brown was in the media room at Wells Fargo Center just before 5:30 p.m. David Fizdale was out in the corridor a few minutes later, in front of a screen covered in Knicks logos. Brown spoke with a brogue that’s still pure South Portland, Maine. Fizdale’s was his familiar California cool.
Technically, they were both talking about basketball.
Technically, they were both talking about the ups and the downs and the rigors and the regrets of the long NBA season.
Technically, they were speaking the same language.
Brown, who is in his sixth season coaching the 76ers, said, “I don’t even want to think about us being the third seed in the East.” He has a new foundation player, Jimmy Butler, who may well be the final piece to delivering the Sixers to the top of the East by June; of Butler (and his newly decorated lineup), Brown said: “The thing that matters most is what we’re currently doing, and where he fits.
“Once the playoffs come,” Brown said, “we want to be at a certain place, a place we aren’t at yet.”
Fizdale, who is in his sixth week coaching the Knicks, came up with a new way to describe what it is the Knicks are trying to do this season, speaking about why it’s not even a consideration to let either Kevin Knox or Mitchell Robinson spend even brief stints in the G-League to get them some extra game minutes not always available on the varsity.
“It takes a village, man,” he said, laughing.
So, yes: even in this miniature spasm of Knicks prosperity, they are never all that far away from reminding you — subtly or bluntly, sometimes both in the same night — that they reside in a different solar system than the Sixers and the others who will spend the next four months jockeying for playoff position.
Then, of course, both teams went and proved it, to the extreme, the 76ers trouncing the Knicks 117-91 in a game that was competitive for about eight minutes and an unwatchable train wreck for 40. They stand in opposite corners of the ring for a reason.
“Got to get back on the ladder and get back to work,” Fizdale said, somehow drawing from a boundless supply of sunshine and hope.
It was an appropriate time to visit this disparity up close, on a night when the Knicks and the Sixers played on their end of the turnpike, meeting for the first time all year.
The Sixers, after all, spent four excruciating years popularizing (and then wearing people out with) the term “Process.” Brown’s first four years on the job were an extraordinary study in maximizing failure, and they were awfully good at being bad: 75 wins against 253 losses.
They stockpiled draft picks, hit on a few (Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons) whiffed on a few (Markelle Fultz, Jahlil Okafor).
They somehow won 52 games and a playoff series last year, and now seem primed, with the addition of Butler, to leave the process behind for good.
Brown is loquacious even in bad times. In good times it feels like the 76ers’ PR folks need to drag him away with a cane. This layer of the atmosphere is a lot of fun.
Out in the corridor …
Fizdale conceded there is something to be gleaned by what the Sixers endured and what they are doing now, and he said it makes him feel good to see a team hatch a plan, stick with it, and see it through.
But the Knicks — tough as things seem some nights — are not what the Process Sixers were. They are not nearly as bereft as Philly was from a talent standpoint.
“And,” Fizdale said, “we have Kristaps [Porzingis] in the wings. That’s different from what they had.”
Fizdale was quick to clarify that “in the wings” doesn’t mean “in a few weeks,” or any timeline quite as definite as anyone would like. But that isn’t the only difference. He said the older guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. — “though I hesitate to call him old, he’s 26!” — and Courtney Lee have made it their mission to help the coaches bring the kids along.
A village, as he said.
Get back on the ladder, he said.
The language was different on the other side of the corridor. Both men were talking about basketball. Technically.
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