Can 76ers Survive the NBA Postseason Without Fans?
Heading into the 2019-2020 NBA season, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown believed his team would be gunning for the Eastern Conference's number one seed. When playing at home this year, the Sixers possess the NBA's best record of 29 wins and only two losses. On the road, however, the story has been quite different.
A record of 10-24 away from home has proven that the Sixers are oftentimes lost when they are playing outside of South Philly in front of opposing fans, but there wasn't a lot of focus on that before. This year, the 76ers have had a long list of mysterious issues surrounding their team, which were used as potential causes as to why they might've been a disappointment.
National platforms typically highlighted factors regarding Al Horford's awkward fit along with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid's rumored off-court issues to justify the Sixers' struggles this season. Meanwhile, the team wasn't focused on any of that. Instead, they were trying to figure out why they can't win on the road.
In Philly, the Sixers feed off the crowd's energy. "To look out there and feel the home crowd, boos or cheers, you feel it," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said early on in the season. "There is a reason for [the impressive home record], and [the fans] deserve credit. That volume of sellouts is impressive." Crediting Sixers fans isn't just limited to Brett Brown, either. Prominent names such as Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, and more have praised Philly fans for providing energy on game nights.
But if you ask any of those guys why the energy doesn't travel, nobody could say. Before the NBA's season suspended on March 11th, the Sixers still hadn't resolved the issue as they lost four of their five previous matchups away from home. And now the next time the 76ers return to the court (if the season resumes), they won't have a shot at any sort of home-court advantage as fans are blocked from attending games.
On March 10th, one day before the league suspended operations, a couple of Sixers considered the idea of playing without fans. Second-year guard Shake Milton was "hopeful" the NBA wouldn't reach the point of not having fans at games. Meanwhile, Josh Richardson called it a "weird" dynamic, stating "teams would have to bring their own energy." The Sixers have struggled to bring their own energy with the crowd going against them, but will they be able to bring it with no crowd at all? "It's to be determined," said Sixers General Manager, Elton Brand.
"We were really great at home, number one team in NBA at home," he continued. "So we know what our fans provide us. If it is at a neutral site, I don't know how our players are going to respond and what that means for us. But I know they will be prepared to play in any situation once it's deemed safe."
As for Sixers' head coach Brett Brown, he says the situation "isn't ideal." However, he believes a lack of crowd noise won't take away the competitive mindset of players. "Do I think it would water down the competitive side?" Brown repeated. "I don't, [but] of course, it's going to have some level of an impact."
The absence of crowd noise will create a practice-like environment for the NBA. If that's the case, then Sixers' GM Elton Brand agrees with Brown and doesn't believe it will affect much from a competitive standpoint.
"I've seen practices that are brutal," the 17-year NBA veteran stated. "You just go at it and bang, foul, sweat, and blood -- you compete. I think the competitive juices, once things are really on the line, regardless if there are fans [or not] we're going to be ready to compete. [The Sixers] are going to kick some a**."
As they expect a fully healthy roster if the season resumes, the Sixers are going to be in a much better position than they were before the season ended abruptly months ago in terms of health. The team's front office and coaching staff are excited to see their 'built-for-playoffs' roster participating in postseason action. However, the lack of home-court advantage does warrant a legitimate concern for this year's postseason run.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_