By Mary Cunningham

The Sixers enter the belly of the beast tonight, taking their worst record in the NBA (being challenged by the overpaid Phil Jackson and the overpaid New York Knicks!) up against the NBA best Golden State Warriors.

And the Warriors’ coach, Steve Kerr — who, by the way must feel pretty good about turning down the Knicks coaching offer — feels the Sixers’ pain.

During his 15-season playing career, Kerr missed the playoffs only twice and his teams never won fewer than 33 games, so he can’t exactly identify with his good friend, Sixers coach Brett Brown (photo above).

But there’s clearly sympathy when Kerr discusses Brown’s situation.

Last season, Brown won 19 games (second worst in the NBA) in his head-coaching debut. This year’s four-win 76ers are on pace for an even lower winning percentage (.138) this season.

“It’s tough,” said Kerr, who has stayed in touch with Brown since they were together in San Antonio in 1999 and then 2002-03, Kerr as a player and Brown as an assistant coach. “All of my friends in the coaching business the past couple of years kept saying, ‘Whatever you do, if you can, try to get to a team that at least has a chance to win. Otherwise, it’s just miserable night after night.’

“I’m amazed at the job (Brown is) doing — just watching every night the energy that he has through all of these losses. His communication with his guys is relentless. He just keeps that positive spirit and energy with their group. It is inspiring, because that’s not an easy thing to go through.”

Philly opened the season 0-17, the worst start in franchise history and just one loss away from the NBA’s worst-ever start, by New Jersey in 2009-10. The 76ers still haven’t won at home, losing 14 straight — five away from the 1993-94 Mavericks’ NBA record of 19 home losses to start a season.

Philly has some intriguing young players in 2013-14 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, rookies Nerlens Noel and K.J. McDaniels and injured Joel Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick in June. But they’re not exactly surrounded by the league’s best talent.

In fact, when Ronald Roberts was signed Dec. 12, he became the 11th undrafted player to be part of the 76ers’ roster this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s a record for undrafted players on a team’s roster over the course of a single season — a mark previously shared by the 10 undrafted players on the 2002-03 Atlanta Hawks and 2009-10 Warriors.

Kerr, coaching the team with the league’s best record and with one of the league’s most talented and versatile rosters, has a very different challenge than Brown. The Warriors’ head man has to find ways to avoid human-nature letdowns when struggling teams like Philadelphia come to town.

He is quick to point out that the 76ers lead the league in steals (10.1 per game) and have jumped eight spots in scoring defense after allowing an NBA-worst 109.9 points per game last season. He also consistently reminds his players that games like these don’t necessarily have much to do with the guys in the opposing uniforms.

“There’s a standard of play that we have to reach consistently, because you don’t just turn it on and off in this league against the good teams or in the playoffs or whatever,” Kerr said. “You’ve got to be consistent in your effort if you want to be truly an elite team. You’re not going to always make shots, and you’re going to have some rough nights. But you’ve got to continue to execute the game plan, make your cuts and be solid fundamentally in order to gain that consistency.”

The Warriors beat five-win Minnesota on Saturday, but in his postgame news conference Kerr made it known that he was upset at his team’s lapse in focus during portions of the game. He spent about as much time detailing mistakes as he did praising the efforts that resulted in the victory.

“Philadelphia is similar to Minnesota — athletic and young and struggling, but they have a lot of potential,” Kerr said. “If we’re careless against these guys, they’ll get out in transition and put a lot of pressure on us. Every night is a good test in the NBA. There’s always something different coming at you. I am anxious to see how we respond.”



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