NEW YORK — The 76ers are a different team without Joel Embiid. That isn’t an excuse for Sunday’s 109-89 lackluster loss to the Brooklyn Nets. It’s just a fact.

Embiid is a two-time All-Star for a reason.

He missed the game because of an upper respiratory illness. The Sixers have the depth to win without him, but not when they aren’t shooting threes well or when they’re getting beaten soundly in transition or struggling from the foul line.

All those things happened against Brooklyn, and the result was inevitable.

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— Marc Narducci (offthedribble@inquirer.com)

Learning to play without their star center

Before giving the 76ers a pass for losing to Brooklyn without Embiid, remember one thing: The Nets were without their explosive but currently injured backcourt of Kyrie Irving (a six-time all-star) and Caris LeVert.

That said, before the game, coach Brett Brown talked about how the Sixers had to play a different style without Embiid, one in which they flourished more in transition. Even when Embiid is active and resting on the bench, Brown likes to pick up the pace.

“When Jo is not playing, we got to play a little different, and I think we tried to play too similar as if he was on the court,” guard Josh Richardson said after the game.

The stats backed that up.

Instead of getting their transition game going, the Sixers were outscored, 23-8, on fastbreak points. Ben Simmons, who had a team-high 20 points, said that the fastbreak was not very fast.

“The pace was too slow,” Simmons said.

With Embiid out, the Sixers have to be a better perimeter-shooting team, simply because they won’t have his post-up dominance.

Against Brooklyn, the Sixers were 5-for-26 from three-point range and just 10-for-17 from the foul line, in addition to being outscored by 15 points on fastbreak points.

What the Sixers have proven is that they can win without Embiid and lose without him at an equal pace. They are 3-3 in games he hasn’t played this season and 17-5 in games he has.

Usually, they have to do well in at least two of these three categories if he is out of the lineup: three-point shooting, foul shooting and fastbreak points.

In the first loss without Embiid, a 114-109 defeat at Phoenix on Nov. 4, the Sixers shot well from three-point range (13-for-29, 44.8%), but just 12-for-20 from the foul line (60%) and were outscored, 15-8, in fastbreak points.

During the second loss, a 112-97 defeat at Orlando on Nov. 13, the Sixers shot 8-for-30 (26.7%) from three-point range and 9-for-13 (69.2%) from the foul line and were outscored, 20-14, in fastbreak points.

Part of the reason their foul shooting goes down when he is out is Embiid is shooting 81.1% from the line.

Sixers guard Matisse Thybulle shoots the basketball against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Sixers guard Matisse Thybulle shoots the basketball against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Starting five

Billy Cunningham during 1966-67 Sixers season.
STAFF FILE
Billy Cunningham during 1966-67 Sixers season.

This day in Sixers history

Tuesday will mark the 43rd anniversary of the Sixers’ retiring Billy Cunningham’s No. 32. The number was retired on Dec. 17, 1976.

Known as the Kangaroo Kid, Cunningham played nine seasons with the Sixers, scoring 13,626 points. He played his first seven years with the team before jumping to the ABA’s Carolina Cougars. After two years in the ABA, he returned and played his final two seasons with the Sixers.

All told, in nine years with the Sixers, he averaged 20.8 points and 10.1 rebounds and earned four All-Star berths. He also had one ABA All-Star selection. Cunningham was the sixth man on the 1966-67 NBA-championship team, averaging 18.5 points in the regular season and 15.0 in the playoffs.

His number was retired before he coached the Sixers. In eight seasons as head coach, he was 454-196 (.698) and guided the Sixers to the 1983 NBA title and two other NBA Finals appearances. He was 66-39 (.629) as a coach in the playoffs.

Cunningham was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1986 as a player.

Next five

Wednesday: Miami at Sixers, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia

Friday: Dallas at Sixers, 8 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia, ESPN

Saturday: Washington at Sixers,, 7 p.m. NBC Sports Philadelphia

Dec. 23: Sixers at Detroit, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus

Dec. 25: Milwaukee at Sixers, 2:30 p.m. ABC

Passing the rock

Question: Please tell me, or write about how many games the Sixers have played with all five starters? Not many, I think. And they are trying to “build cohesion and chemistry”? — Peter Cornish (via email)

Answer: Thanks for the question, Peter, and for reading the newsletter. The Sixers have played 10 games with Embiid, Simmons, Richardson, Al Horford and Tobias Harris starting. They are 7-3 in those games.

As for building cohesion and chemistry, that has been what they have been working on since training camp, especially with two new starters and the fact that only Simmons and Embiid were starters on the team at this time last year. It’s hard to build chemistry when people are constantly out of the lineup, but that has been what the Sixers continue to work on, especially having players comfortable with spacing.

Because of the various injuries, this still is going to take time for the starters to truly feel comfortable together.