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For the Sixers, little progress from the tanking years

We have all marveled at the Los Angeles Lakers' improvement this season. They have beaten some of the heavyweights in the Western Conference and have shown that the franchise is heading in the right direction.

We have all marveled at the Los Angeles Lakers' improvement this season. They have beaten some of the heavyweights in the Western Conference and have shown that the franchise is heading in the right direction.

At 7-6, they have five more wins than they did through 13 games last season.

The 76ers, meanwhile, have shown slight improvement - record-wise.

They were winless through the first 13 games of the 2015-16 season but are 3-10 after beating the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night

It can be argued that their three-win improvement is just a result of their beating three teams with worse problems - the Indiana Pacers, the Washington Wizards, and the Suns.

Other than Joel Embiid's performances, the Sixers haven't exactly shown anything on the court that would signify the team is heading in the right direction.

They are actually reminiscent of the squads that went a combined 47-199 during the previous three seasons. The only difference is the current Sixers are not tanking.

The Sixers ranked last in the NBA in points differential (minus 12.5 per game) and field-goal differential (minus 5.7) heading into Saturday's NBA action. They were 29th in field-goal percentage defense (47.1), 27th in foul-shooting percentage (72.5), and 26th in turnovers (16.6 per game), scoring (95.9 per game), scoring defense (108.4), field-goal percentage (43.0), and rebounding (42.0).

It's hard to win games struggling to score, making field goals and foul shots, holding onto the ball, and grabbing rebounds.

For the most part, the Sixers have been the equivalent of a light-switch team. That's a squad that opposing teams can beat without turning up the intensity until the fourth quarter.

A prime example was their season-opening defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder were on cruise control until the fourth quarter. And even then, they basically did just enough to avoid an embarrassing loss.

Russell Westbrook finished the game with 32 points. Ten came in the fourth quarter, including nine with the game on the line.

The all-star gave the Thunder the lead for good, 99-97, with a pair of foul shots with 35 seconds left. The Sixers imploded down the stretch.

Injuries definitely are playing a pivotal role. You have Sergio Rodriguez starting at point guard. The Spaniard was supposed to be nothing more than a change-of-pace reserve when the team signed him to a one-year free-agent deal in July.

Despite his inability to make defensive stops, the Sixers are forced to play him 29 minutes a game. At times, his shooting is solid. Other times, it has been worse than his defense. But he and T.J. McConnell are the only healthy ballhandling options with first overall pick Ben Simmons (fractured right foot) and Jerryd Bayless (left wrist ligament damage) both out.

Meanwhile, the team has been unable to move one of its reserve centers - Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor - and that is a problem.

The thought was that the team would be able to acquire a much-needed guard or wing player in exchange for one of the lottery-pick big men. But instead of roster balance, the Sixers are loaded with centers unable to play a lot of minutes - when they can play at all.

Embiid and Okafor are restricted to playing 24 minutes a game. And Okafor has been inconsistent on offense. He's also been criticized for his defensive struggles. At least he's playing. Noel has yet to play in the regular season because of inflamed tissue above his left knee.

Once he's healthy, the Sixers could benefit from Noel's rim protection and ability to run the floor. The 6-foot-11, 228-pounder has played at close to an all-star level when paired with the right point guard. But his play will be nothing more than a tease, considering he doesn't appear to fit into the team's long-term plans.

So at this stage, the Sixers are not farther along than they were during the three seasons of tanking. Like in the previous three seasons, a prized draft pick is sidelined by injury. Embiid missed both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

As in the previous three seasons, the Sixers have had their share of humiliating losses. And as in the previous seasons, the shining light is the much-anticipated debut of the injured draft pick, in this case Simmons.

So while the Lakers have shown visible improvement, things are the same as they've been for the Sixers.