Somehow, this is an all but too familiar sound for the Philadelphia 76ers and its fan base around this time of year.
It’s not the sound of wayward basketballs banging uselessly off the rims at either the Wells Fargo Center or whatever arena the Sixers happen to be playing at. It’s the sound of pitchforks being slammed on to the ground OUTSIDE of the Wells Fargo Center – usually found on Twitter and the totality of the media landscape (both social media and traditional media).
When the Sixers hired Doc Rivers to replace Brett Brown last season, there was a bit of a possibility that this wouldn’t be a recurring theme because, after all, Rivers has a championship pedigree (albeit over a decade ago, but still), and he seemed to have the Sixers humming last season as the team was the one seed in the Eastern Conference.
That was four score in one Ben Simmons and one disastrous playoff series to the Atlanta Hawks ago.
For the most part, the Sixers have been way better than some of us thought given the fact the team didn’t have Simmons for the entire season. Joel Embiid has been on an MVP tear since the season began, and he’s carried the team at multiple points this season.
The Sixers traded Ben Simmons and other items to Brooklyn for James Harden at the deadline, and that move was heralded (by us mostly). Embiid had help. He had a perfect (?) complement to his play style: a dynamic pick-and-roll scorer and distributor who is also capable of either getting to the line or getting his own shot.
In the beginning, things were great. The Sixers had amassed an initial 7-1 record with the Embiid/Harden combo. Sunshine and lollipops descended from the rafters like mistaken confetti. (Still too soon for those jokes?) After that blazing run, things tapered. There were some clunker losses:
March 10 vs Brooklyn (the first meeting between Harden and the Nets since the trade)
March 13 against Orlando and March 14 vs Denver (There was no reason the Sixers should have needed overtime against the Magic, and it cost them momentum against another MVP candidate)
Here we are on April 1 in the bowels of a three-game losing streak with the Charlotte Hornets next on the schedule. Granted, two of the losses were against the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks, but that third one against the Detroit Pistons …
Last night, Doc said the following about the bench scoring issues:
“Well, [the bench] didn’t struggle. They didn’t get a lot of shots, in their defense. I think during that stretch it was more James than them. Yea, it’s just a tough night.”
Okay. On the one hand, sure. The Sixers bench has been routinely bad. It’s been that way since I started writing for Liberty Ballers and that was back in 2016. On another hand, yes. It didn’t help Harden’s case that he was 4-15 from the field and 2-9 from deep. However, a third item can exist: Doc has been horrendous with his rotations.
He hasn’t found that right combination of staggering Embiid and Harden. He can’t go to those “all bench” minutes that we love to hate because they’ll get slaughtered. Rivers has not been good, and it’s time to tell Doc something that he told Paul George the year after his Los Angeles Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead:
“I think everybody needs to take ownership.”
Yeah. That means you, too, Doc!
The army of people who want Doc canned at the end of the season (barring an NBA championship) is growing in both number and intensity. This time, he may not be able to hold them off. The people who defend Doc (like me in a very specific way) point to how it’s not easy to integrate a player like Harden into a team this close to a playoff push.
That’s not to say it can’t be done but look at the landscape of the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets are dangerous. The Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics are surging. (Boston is going to have to continue their surge without Robert Williams, so we’ll have to see how much further they can be effective starting Daniel Theis. Does he still play for them?) Chicago is winless against the top teams in the East, but are they going to be a little frisky in the playoffs? Then, you have Charlotte and Cleveland who, like the Hawks last year, are young and playing fancy free because they’re young and no one expects them to go far.
Another bad outing for Doc in the playoffs this year, and those armies are going to breach the gate, and Daryl Morey is going to have to make another decision for how this franchise moves forward while potentially wasting ANOTHER year of Joel Embiid’s prime.