It looks as if the Sixers might have lost their way.
"How can it not?" Sixers coach Brett Brown said after his team dropped another close game to a sub-.500 team.
Behind a game-high 27 points from Zach Randolph, the Sacramento Kings beat a Joel Embiid-less Sixers squad, 101-95, Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Embiid, who did not play Monday in Chicago because of tightness and soreness in his back, was advised by the team's medical staff to take another the night off.
Losing two straight and seven of the last nine games, dropping significantly in defensive efficiency, and dealing with an ailing roster, the Sixers needed a win, but dropped to 14-16 on the season.
"Anytime you have this volume of losses in the month of December, you have a tendency to second-guess," Brown said. "But we'll stay strong, stay together, and welcome some healthy people back into the mix."
With the Nov. 9 one-point loss to the Kings still fresh in their minds, and the loss in Chicago still stinging, the Sixers tried to use every weapon they had, with contributions coming from every player who stepped on the floor.
The Sixers even had help from Trevor Booker, who sprained his left ankle against Oklahoma City on Saturday and was expected to be sidelined against Sacramento. But even with his return, the Sixers came up short.
Robert Covington paced the Sixers with 17 points, but had a rough night, shooting 2-of-13 from three-point range. With JJ Redick suffering a right hamstring injury in the third quarter, Covington missing shots, and the Sixers most reliable scorer in Embiid not playing, Brown said that the Sixers were having a hard time finding guys to go to.
Ben Simmons, for the second night in a row, was just one assist shy of a triple-double. He finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists for his 18th double-double of the season. After the loss, Simmons said the Sixers have lost focus.
"I don't think we've been focusing down the stretch, missing shots, not calling the right plays, little things like that," he said.
After giving up a third-quarter double-digit lead, the Sixers were frustrated. Early in the fourth, Amir Johnson's third foul sent Willy Cauley-Stein to the free throw line and T.J. McConnell was charged with a technical foul.
Leading by as many as 16 points in the third, the Sixers found themselves trailing through the final minutes, with another game slipping away.
Jerryd Bayless, who finished with 15 points, nearly became the Sixers' savior, hitting big threes in the final minutes to keep them within striking distance, but the Kings continued to find ways to score, including nine fourth-quarter points from Garrett Temple.
A 9-1 run to open the second half gave the Sixers a double-digit lead, but they were dealt another blow when Redick was sidelined early in the third. He did not return.
The Kings clawed their way back, with Josh Jackson hitting a three, Buddy Hield hitting from all over the floor, and Randolph imposing his will in the paint. Hield finished with 24 points.
Randolph said he was happy when he found out that Embiid wouldn't be playing, knowing he'd be able to claim the paint in a more aggressive way. He gave a lot of credit to the younger Kings players, including Hield and Temple.
"Having those guys come in and play like that down in crunch time is big," Randolph said.
A Simmons steal that was quickly passed off to a streaking Covington, who threw down a two-handed jam, gave the Sixers a 48-46 lead in the second quarter. The Sixers continued to let the defense do the talking, holding the Kings to just two points through the final 5 minutes, 25 seconds of the first half.
Once again, the Sixers couldn't hang on for 48 minutes, and the Kings took over in the second half.
"It's a long season. There's a lot of ups and downs, and right now we're in a downturn," Bayless said.
De'Aaron Fox, who hit the game-winning bucket against the Sixers in Sacramento on Nov. 9, injured his right quadriceps in the first half and did not return.