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Stop talking about “variance” - it’s effort

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The Sixers just don’t try against bad teams.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers ran through the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas only to fall to the sub .500 Orlando Magic two days later.

After both games, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps had the same analysis: the Sixers have a low floor and high ceiling.

Bontemps and others love to use the word “variance” to explain the Sixers extreme ups and downs. This simple explanation lacks the abundant and obvious context provided by interviews and games from all season and even just the past few days.

How can the Sixers constantly lose to the bottom teams in the East while beating the top teams? Because they’re admittedly only trying against the top teams.

After the Bucks game, Joel Embiid implied he’s been taking it easy most games in an attempt to stay healthy for the postseason.

Embiid backs this up with his play. He’s clearly not looking to physically assert himself against the Magic the same way he is against the Bucks (this was the entire basis of the overly-publicized critiques of Embiid by Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley, and Embiid agreed with them). As the Sixers’ best player, Embiid’s effort level has a massive impact on how well they’re capable of playing.

Ben Simmons, the team’s other All-Star, admits they have not been bringing the same level of energy they brought in their win against the team with the NBA’s best record. He implies that who the team has played has mattered in terms of their energy level.

Even coach Brett Brown, who is clearly frustrated with the team’s lack of effort against bad teams, acknowledges the obvious: the Sixers were built with the playoffs in mind.

It isn’t random - it’s easily predictable when the Sixers will play well and when they won’t. When they play good teams, they play great, and when they don’t, they play less than great.

Do they play up or down to their competition? Definitely. And much of it comes down to effort - they’re not even trying to pretend it doesn’t.

And I’m not defending it. As a fan, it’s annoying to watch them lose to the Magic, especially knowing there’s another gear they’re just not tapping into. Want to critique it? Go ahead! Although it frustrates me, it doesn’t particularly concern me, but if it concerns you (or you just don’t like it) then that’s fine to say.

But let’s not act like the Sixers are a team with a mysteriously high ceiling and low floor. They’ve beaten great teams because they’ve tried against them, and they’ve lost to bad teams because they haven’t. This is backed up by stats, the players’ own words, and the obvious effort-level (or lack thereof) from just about every game all season.