Approaching the 50-game mark, the 76ers are not where they envisioned being. They are 30-19, but have continued to struggle on the road.
The latest road debacle was Saturday’s 116-95 loss in Boston to a shorthanded Celtics team playing without all-star Kemba Walker and key frontcourt performer Enes Kanter, who were both injured.
The Sixers never got the deficit below 13 points during the fourth quarter in dropping their third straight road game and falling to 9-17 away from the Wells Fargo Center.
And if the road record isn’t enough for concern, the next two games are at Miami on Monday and Milwaukee on Thursday, two teams that are a combined 44-6 at home.
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There are certainly going to be nights when the Sixers don’t shoot well, and Saturday in Boston was one of those. The Sixers shot 31 of 84 from the field (36.9 percent) and just 7 of 33 from three-point range (21.2 percent).
What was alarming was how the Sixers left their physical play in Philadelphia. Even though Boston was without Walker and Enes Kanter, who were both injured, the Celtics were the aggressor, taking it to the Sixers, who rarely had an answer to the aggression.
“In general, to lose tonight the way we lost tonight, I thought it was a physicality difference in the game,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
That simply meant the Celtics were playing harder and wanted it more.
Boston is an undersized team to begin with, and without the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Kanter, it was playing even smaller.
Despite Boston’s disadvantage, the Sixers were outscored 48-46 in points in the paint.
Joel Embiid, who shot just 1 for 11, attempted just three shots from under 10 feet, according to NBA.com stats. Embiid and Al Horford were a combined 1 for 14 on shots from beyond 10 feet. (Horford was 1 of 6 from three-point range.)
Instead of pounding it down low, the Sixers’ two big men continued to fire away from the outside, playing into the Celtics’ hands. Both Embiid and Horford were constantly outhustled by 6-foot-8 Daniel Theis.
Remember when Brown talked early in the season about playing bully ball? Well the Sixers were bullied and afterward they seemed physically spent.
“We never want to be the less physical team, especially with the size that we have,” said Tobias Harris, limited to 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting. “But I think, you know, tonight was one those games where they imposed their will early.”
Imposed their will early?
It’s easy to say that in an 82-game NBA schedule, a team won’t be bringing it every night. However after Thursday’s 127-117 loss at Atlanta against the struggling Hawks, one would think the last thing the Sixers would do was come out listless and flat.
When asked if the physical aspect of the game took them out, Horford replied, “Yeah, at times. Yeah, I think definitely at times."
A loss like this should tug at a team’s collective pride. It will be interesting to see how the Sixers come out against Miami, and whether they attempt to regain that physical presence that they have prided themselves on in the past but was nowhere to be seen on Saturday.
Few people have had a bigger impact on a new team this year than former Sixers forward Jimmy Butler in Miami. The Heat, who were 39-42 last season, are 33-15 and Butler, who has earned his fifth all-star berth, has been the leader.
Monday will be the fourth and final meeting between the Sixers and Heat. Miami owns a 2-1 advantage. In those three games, Butler has averaged 16.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists. Butler has not shot well against the Sixers this season, going 16 for 45 (35.5 percent).
Against the Sixers, he is 0 for 5 from three-point range, but where Butler makes a living is getting to the foul line. In the three games, he has hit 18 of 23 free throws (.783).
For the Sixers, the best way to defend Butler is to make him beat them with his perimeter game.
According to NBA.com stats, in shots from 15 feet and beyond, Butler is shooting 43 for 176 (24.4 percent).
Teams would much rather deal with Butler on the perimeter than seeing him driving to the basket.
Tonight: Sixers at Miami Heat, 7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA TV.
Thursday: Sixers at Milwaukee Bucks, 8 p.m., TNT
Friday: Memphis at Sixers, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia
Sunday: Chicago Bulls at Sixers, 6 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia
Feb. 11: Los Angeles Clippers at Sixers, 7 p.m., TNT
Question: I’ve always been suspect of Joel’s game and whole act. I don’t think he’s a serious player. So I’m not new to the “build around Ben” thing, but here’s my question, if I had these questions about Jo’s attitude, cardio, overall health and poor post game from my couch, is his regression and Ben’s improvement without him on the floor killing his trade value? What can we expect back for him at this point? I have to believe GMs and scouts are watching these performances and wondering if we’re watching Post-Peak Jo, too. — Ron Cornwall via email
Answer: Thanks for the question, Ron. It is interesting because most of the comments we get are about trading Ben Simmons and not Joel Embiid.
My guess is if the Sixers ever broke up the duo, it would be Simmons to go. I think the Sixers are firmly behind the fact that they think Embiid, with the right cast around him, can be the person to lead them to a title.
That said, to answer your question, one would think the Sixers could get a lot for Embiid, although some teams might shy away because of his injury history. After this season he is scheduled to earn $29.5 million, 31.5 million and 33.6 million (according to Hoopshype.com), which for a person who has been voted an all-star starter the last three years, is actually reasonable.
Yes, the Sixers were 6-3 during his recent injury and Simmons played well, but that wouldn’t lessen Embiid’s trade value one bit. The Sixers would almost have to get an All-Star-caliber player plus a starter (and maybe a future first-rounder) for Embiid because he is a true game-changer when healthy. If the Sixers ever entertained trading him, they would need a haul back. As I stated, I don’t think they would ever do it, but it’s an interesting idea.