TORONTO – Here are my main takeaways and best and worst awards from the 76ers' 129-112 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night at the Scotiabank Arena:
– The Sixers are back to being the squad that for the first three quarters of last season couldn't compete with the NBA's elite teams. Despite all the hype, the Sixers' overall lack of depth and lack of offseason improvement were obvious against the Raptors and in their other three losses.
– Ben Simmons needs to take better care of the ball and make better decisions. Even though he recorded his sixth double-double, the Sixers point guard quickly became a liability. Kawhi Leonard stole the ball from him near the three-point line 33 seconds into the game while Simmons was looking in the direction of Joel Embiid, who was near the foul line. His second turnover came exactly 60 seconds later. This time, Simmons drove the lane and passed the ball backward instead of trying to score on Pascal Siakam. His bad pass went directly to Leonard. Simmons went on to finish with a career-worst 11 turnovers.
– Opponents are coming up with schemes to stop Simmons from getting easy buckets. As in Saturday's game against the Charlotte Hornets, the Raptors were physical with the 2017-18 rookie of the year. They made it hard for him to get running starts and prevented him from getting to his desired spots. Expect this blueprint to continue until Simmons attempts long jumpers to force defenders to play him honestly.
– The Sixers have become a welcomed opponent for elite players. Leonard was the latest standout to do whatever he wanted against the team's revamped defense, scoring 31 points. Chicago's Zach LaVine (30 points), Orlando's Evan Fournier (31), Detroit's Blake Griffin (50), Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo (32), and Charlotte's Kemba Walker (37) have scored at least 30 against them.
– It's obvious that the Sixers miss former assistant coach Lloyd Pierce, who was hired as Atlanta Hawks head coach in May. Pierce got the job in part because of the stellar work he did with the Sixers defense, which was ranked among the league's best last season. He also got the most of his players and demanded grit and hard work. The Sixers replaced that grit with confusion on the defensive end.
Best performance: This was easy. Leonard gets this for being the latest opposing player to remind us of how far the Sixers defense has fallen. His 31 points came on 10-for-19 shooting. A complete player, he made 9 of 10 foul shots and added seven rebounds, four assists, and four steals.
Worst performance: Simmons gets this despite finishing with 11 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds. His 11 turnovers were too much to overlook and hindered the Sixers. Seven of his giveaways occurred in the first half.
Best defensive performance: This was tough, because Robert Covington led the Sixers with four steals and two blocks. But Leonard gets this for the job he did on Simmons. He set the tone with his two early steals and frustrated the Sixer.
Worst statistic: This goes to the Sixers' 23 turnovers. They were the difference in the game.
Best statistic: This goes to the Raptors' shooting 51.1 percent from the field.