You don’t want to overreact to one game. Hell, you don’t want to overreact to 24 games of an 82-game season, especially with the Sixers’ stars missing so much time. That won’t stop Sixers fans from going through the five stages of grief several times over the course of a season.
But Monday’s loss to the Rockets felt like a microcosm of why the fan base is mostly apathetic when it comes to their team right now.
The offense was stagnant, The defensive effort was lacking. They were outrebounded and generally outworked. They seemed mostly disinterested in a double-overtime loss to a team that’s more interested in winning the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than winning basketball games.
Injuries have plagued the Sixers, but this current seven-game homestand would be an ideal time for them to show a little life and resemble the team they were planning to be.
James Harden missed 14 straight games before making his return Monday. Tyrese Maxey has missed nine games and is “still a ways away” from returning to the lineup while nursing a small fracture in his left foot. Joel Embiid has missed eight games with injuries and illness.
And the list goes on.
The only the Sixer to not miss a game because of injury this year is P.J. Tucker. The veteran forward, who was the prize of the team’s offseason, has caught the ire from some because of a lack of scoring. What you can’t question about the 37-year-old is his effort and physicality.
He didn’t mince words at practice Wednesday when he was asked what has led to the team’s struggles on the glass.
“We’ve got to be more physical. Period,” Tucker said. “We’ve kind of been saying that all year, but we’ve got to be more physical. We’ve got to hit first. We’ve got to be more aggressive on the box-outs and helping each other.”
With that said, Tucker did think the team returning home for a while and having Harden back in the fold could be just what the Sixers need.
“Just cleaning up our execution, our awareness,” Tucker said. “Just being on the same page. ... Seven games at home now gives us a good chance to kind of get our mojo back. With James getting back and getting more activated, try to get everybody back healthy — that’d be a big help. But I think it’s just something we’ve got to keep building on.”
Sure, the team lacks a bit of continuity. Harden and Embiid didn’t get a lot of time to coalesce last year and they’ve played in just seven games together in 2022-23. With so many players in and out of the lineup it’s difficult to find rhythm and chemistry.
Doc Rivers downplayed the idea that the homestand is a time to get right, believing his team just needs to get healthy.
“It would be nice,” Rivers said. “That’s what you want, but you need all your guys back, too. We’re treading water. We’re trying to get everybody right and healthy. Just because you’re at home … if you’re not all healthy, it’s still going to be hard. But I think we’re healthier for the first time in a while. ... If we were all intact, it would be one that you’d say, ‘Let’s win ‘em all.’ We’re still in that game-to-game phase until we get our guys back intact.”
Health is a big factor, but many of the Sixers’ issues predate any of the injury woes. A lack of creativity on offense and poor late-game execution have hurt the Sixers, especially when it comes to their two stars.
The loss in Houston highlighted those difficulties. Harden forced tough shots at the end of the game while Embiid had the hot hand. Funny enough the opposite happened during the home opening loss to Milwaukee. Embiid also had a pair of brutal turnovers in overtime where he wasn’t even pressured into those mistakes.
“I didn’t like the end of the game and overtime,” Rivers said. “We should’ve ended that game better. We had three or four possessions with a one-point lead and didn’t score. So we’ve got to score on those. We’ve got to score on one of them. So I didn’t like how we executed that down the stretch.
“And then in the overtime, we got the ball to Joel in the right spots and then he had those two turnovers. Those can’t happen either, because those weren’t even hard passes or traps. We just turned the ball over. Maybe that was fatigue. I don’t know what that was. We’ve got to be good offensively, and solid. And we’ve been that overall late in games. The other night, we were not.”
The “fatigue” line would be easier to digest if this wasn’t a persistent issue. You can’t expect Doc to lambaste his star players to the media, but this isn’t a one-off situation.
The Sixers have late-game offensive issues. They have stretches where the offense looks stuck. They have rebounding issues. There is a general malaise at times with this group that needs to be fixed.
The Sixers don’t need to go 7-0 on this homestand to reinvigorate the fan base — though that would help — but just show a little life.
Otherwise the anger that turned into depression will soon turn into acceptance that this team simply won’t win anything of consequence.