The Philadelphia 76ers ended 2019 in true Sixers fashion. Following an impressive Christmas Day win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the NBA’s best team, the Sixers went on an uninspiring three-game losing streak. While issues on offense and late game execution have produced some problems, a lack of consistent engagement has hurt the Sixers as well.
Following the Sixers’ latest defeat, a rough 115-97 loss to the Indiana Pacers on New Year’s Eve, Josh Richardson expressed his thoughts on what’s wrong.
“I don’t think there there’s enough accountability in our locker room right now, honestly,” Richardson said after the game, per Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I think that we got some new guys, who don’t want to step on toes, including myself. I feel like we kind of go play and don’t compete as much.
“There’s been games that we have [competed], and it’s been great,” Richardson added. “But when it’s not going good, we got to hold each other accountable. I think that’s where a lot of our problems start... Going forward, we got to talk to some people about it, and we got to do it. We talk about playing hard every day. We talk about, you know we break the huddle down with chip every day, and we got a long way to go before we actually start competing for that. I think our locker room has some growing to do.”
Richardson isn’t the only one to address the Sixers’ lack of engagement. Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons also talked about the team needing to rally and find consistency after the Pacers game, with Simmons mentioning effort as an issue after the last loss to Miami as well.
“We were right there,” said Simmons, per Ky Carlin of Sixers Wire. “It starts in the first quarter. We’ve got to carry the same energy all the way through. We can’t wait for the last minute to pick it up.”
Meanwhile, head coach Brett Brown sounded about as frustrated as he’s ever been with his team following the latest loss to Orlando on December 27.
“I don’t even care about it,” Brown said when asked about his thoughts on the Sixers’ late comeback to nearly steal a win, per NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters. “I really don’t even care about it. I don’t believe that we should have been in that position. And I think it’s hollow praise to go there. I’m not going there. It’s a physicality issue that we lost. And in fact, it’ll probably end up serving us well. Like it was a playoff-type of movement as far as the physical side of it. And I thought that we responded with a D-minus.”
When questioned on the subject, Brown also admitted that it’s concerning that the Sixers play to the level of their opponent.
These comments are all fair. The Sixers have slipped to 8th in defensive rating largely due to spells of poor effort. And as simple as it may sound, they’ve let some leads slip late in games due to taking their foot off the gas. With a dead average offense (currently ranked 15th), the Sixers need quality defense to carry them. Any lackadaisical play at that end of the floor is too costly when they don’t have the offensive firepower or late-game execution to make up for slipping defensively.
The top of the Eastern Conference is close, as teams like the Celtics, Raptors and Heat have surpassed expectations to start the season. Games against weaker opposition can’t be taken for granted. Home court advantage is important for everyone, especially a Sixers team that has played so differently at Wells Fargo Center. At home, the Sixers have a league-best 16-2 record (tied with Milwaukee) and rank 15th in offensive rating, 2nd in defensive rating, and 4th in net rating with an impressive mark of +9.7. On the road, their record is only 7-11 thanks to ranking 16th in offense and only 12th in defense. The result is a measly -1.8 net rating, which ranks just 12th.
That said, it’s important not to lose sight of the grand scheme of things. Of course, the Sixers still have offensive issues to correct and will always be limited there with the current roster. And yes, the short slump after Christmas is discouraging and highlights some of the team’s season-long weaknesses. But it hasn’t suddenly lowered their ceiling.
They’re still an extremely talented team, they have a great defense whenever they’re locked in, and they’ve performed well against the top teams in the East. The Sixers are 2-0 against Boston, 1-1 against Toronto, and just rolled past Milwaukee. Some of Philly's best basketball has come against elite opposition. Combined with their size, the difficult physical matchups they create for opponents, and defensive potential, this bodes well for the playoffs.
The sky isn’t falling. There’s still a long way to go this regular season. Increased intensity on a more consistent basis and improved chemistry alone can help address the issues that Brett Brown and several of his players have talked about.
Next, the Sixers have to act accordingly. They just need these changes to start coming together sooner rather than later to maximize their chance of getting a top seed in the East. This team isn’t good enough or proven enough to establish bad habits in the regular season and rely on flipping a switch when the time comes.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.