TORONTO – Despite the 76ers' mounting losses, Brett Brown believes this season is different from the previous four woeful campaigns. The coach said his team is on the brink of something big.
"It's easy for me to stand up here and say that when recent results don't reflect that," Brown said before Saturday's game against the Toronto Raptors. "But I think you take DeMar [DeRozan] and Kyle [Lowry] out of this [Raptors] team, you are going to experience stuff we are experiencing without Joel [Embiid] and JJ [Redick]."
Well, the Sixers got Embiid back against the Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The center provided an early lift, scoring the Sixers' first eight points. But he cooled off and the Sixers (14-18) suffered a 102-86 loss.
Committing 23 turnovers hurt them more than their rusty franchise player's not being at 100 percent and running out of gas.
"We are turning the ball over at an unprofessional level," said T.J. McConnell, whose team is averaging a league-worst 18.3 turnovers per game. "We just got to get that fixed. It's just leading to easy buckets for them.
"We can't even stop them because they are getting breakout layups off our turnovers."
On this evening, the Raptors scored 28 points off turnovers.
The setback extended the Sixers' losing streak to a season-worst five games and have also lost nine of their last 10.
Redick missed his second consecutive game with tightness in his right hamstring. He's probable for the Christmas Day game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
The Sixers can only hope to have a better showing on Broadway than in Toronto. For the first time all season, the Sixers, who are four games under .500 for the first time this season, resembled the squad that had tanked the previous four seasons.
Frustration is starting to set in, as Brown, Embiid, and Dario Saric were all called for technical fouls. Brown and Saric received theirs for voicing displeasure with certain situations/non-calls. Embiid received his for spiking the ball.
After the game, Brown went around the locker room to provide encouragement to his players.
"It's a tough stretch for us," Robert Covington said. "It's one of those tough times in the NBA that teams go through. We've got to get our mojo back."
The Sixers announced 15 minutes before the game that Embiid would play. He missed the previous three games with back tightness. The center has been sidelined eight games total this season because of his back and left knee.
The Sixers went into Saturday with a 13-10 record in games he played. They are 1-7 without him.
So, as expected, there was some excitement surrounding his return. It was warranted, early on.
Embiid attempted the Sixers' first six shots, making three to score their first eight points. His teammates repeatedly fed him the ball in a halfcourt set. He also had three rebounds and one block before Amir Johnson subbed in for him with 6 minutes, 53 seconds left in the opening quarter. Embiid went on to miss his other shot attempt of the quarter and didn't attempt a shot in the second quarter.
He finished with 14 points on 5-for-13 shooting to go with eight rebounds, two assists, three blocks, and a game-worst five turnovers in 22 minutes, 57 seconds. An exhausted Embiid exited the game for good with the Sixers trailing, 86-65, and 9:30 remaining in the fourth quarter.
"I felt I was [lousy] and the whole team was [lousy]," Embiid said. "We committed too many turnovers and we didn't share the ball."
Even though he had three blocks, Embiid didn't move the way he normally does on defense.
He said he didn't feel at his best during warm-ups. But Embiid hates sitting out and was determined to play.
This game marked the first time he faced the Raptors in Toronto. But even with him, this was an uphill battle.
Toronto (23-8), which also beat the Sixers in Philly on Thursday, has now won six straight and 12 of its last 13. The Raptors are a league-best 12-1 at home. They have also won 18 of 19 meetings against the Sixers since the start of the 2013-14 season.
As on Thursday, DeRozan had a big hand in this victory.
The Raptors shooting guard made 4 of 7 three-pointers to finish with a game-high 29 points after career highs of 45 points and six threes in Philly. Serge Ibaka added 17 points for Toronto. Saric led the Sixers with 17 points on a night they missed 20 of 27 three-pointers.