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Sixers still searching for closers, have “failed to discourage” big runs down the stretch

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers are struggling offensively. It has not been pretty. Sure we can make excuses. Their starters have only all been active for 5 games. There have been injuries, (prudent) load management programs, and (not prudent) suspensions. We’ve seen the type of continuity issues and growing pains anyone might have reasonably forecast. We’ve seen vicious shooting slumps, the likes of which do not last forever. (Tobias Harris may have already seen some positive regression last night following his epic slump).

With a few of these things in mind, it’s fair to expect improvement and avoid full-on panic:

But the team needs closers now that the player who most famously took that role upon himself, Jimmy Butler, a season ago is down in South Beach. They’ve missed their best triple threat wing from a year ago and haven’t yet found someone to help Joel Embiid consistently put teams away and curb the opposition’s momentum when it gets going.

Al Horford has struggled. He’s shooting just 43.6 percent, a career low. After a dynamic performance in a loss to Phoenix the 33 year may have already shown signs of fatigue, shooting just 23 of 65 since, for 35.3 percent. He earned himself a rest game last week, but that didn’t fully cure his woes. Now some of this, of course, is because he’s playing a floor spacing role and shooting more 3s than he ever has before. Horford is up to a career high 4.9 3s attempted per game. He’s hitting 31.5 percent on his 54 attempts. But neither Al nor Coach Brett Brown can be too happy with how he’s shot the ball so far this year.

Tobias Harris has struggled. He still has yet to look very comfortable in a Sixers uniform dating back to last February. His best games tend to come when Joel Embiid is not in the lineup. He’s shooting 24.5 percent from deep, his lowest rate since he was in Orlando back in 2014. He’s due for some positive regression, although his adjustment to the closing role and his moving “down” a position to small-forward from stretch-four hasn’t been pretty at all.

Furkan Korkmaz has offered a mixed bag and shown some not-so-surprising streakiness offensively and some subpar defense.

Josh Richardson has been up and down offensively but shot the lights out last night. He just needed a little more help, since he’s not a player who can be relied upon to bring it like that every single night.

While some may have hoped or expected Ben Simmons to shoot the ball more this season, that has not been the case.

Failure to discourage

Many of the issues they’ve struggled with, while losing 5 of their last 7 games, culminate in the team allowing a deluge of points late in games and going cold themselves.

They blew a huge 21 point lead with 11 minutes remaining in Denver and lost by three.

Then last week the Sixers were up 77-70 over the Cavs at home with 2:34 left in the third. Less than 5 minutes later, in their own gym, they were down by five. It was a 17-5 run led by Jordan “It’s Jordan Clarkson time” Clarkson, and the game wound up coming down to the wire. The Sixers eeked it out but it was very ugly. After the game here is what coach Brown said, per Aaron Bracy of AP News:

“We gave them life and were in a fistfight,” Brown said. “You can just feel it. We had a chance to discourage them and we didn’t. Certainly a hard-fought game and we’re lucky to get away with it.”

Failing to discourage has perhaps been a theme in subsequent losses as well. In orlando last Wednesday, with 5 minutes to go the Sixers built an 8 point lead. It was 71-63 with 5:02 remaining in the third. They couldn’t discourage the Magic and allowed the opposition to close the game on a blistering 33-13 run.

In OKC, this time with a fully-loaded arsenal of starters, the Sixers led 91-83 with 8:12 to go. But they got outworked and outscored 22 to 13 to finish.

On the year Philadelphia ranks just 24th out of all 30 teams for second half offense per

They rank 23rd in the league in free throw attempts per game. Conference rivals like the Bucks are second overall in that department. The heat, where Butler wound up, are now 6th. If the Sixers want to find ways to withstand the shooting slumps, they’re going to need to get to the line more. And to do that, they’re going to need someone (or two) with a killer instinct and help Joel Embiid discourage these huge 4th quarter runs they keep allowing.

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