TORONTO – The 76ers made the playoffs for the first time in six years last season, setting high expectations for this campaign. They pushed those expectations even higher with offseason chatter that Markelle Fultz had regained his shooting touch and would play at an elite level.
Then the season started and now we're learning that was all wishful thinking.
After a 4-4 start, it's obvious that Fultz remains a work in progress and the Sixers have regressed. The team predicted to contend for an Eastern Conference title might be lucky to become a seventh or eighth seed in the postseason without improvement.
Their losses all came against conference playoff-caliber foes on the road. One of those setbacks was a 133-132 overtime decision to the Detroit Pistons, thanks to a 50-point effort by power forward Blake Griffin. However, the Sixers lost the other three games to the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics by an average of 16.6 points.
Things won't get any easier for the Sixers in the near future with three of their next four games coming against the Los Angeles Clippers, Pistons and Indiana Pacers.
The Sixers will entertain the Clippers (4-3) Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Then they'll host the Pistons (4-3) on Saturday before traveling to the Brooklyn Nets (3-5) on Saturday. Then the Sixers head to Indianapolis to face the Pacers (5-3) on Nov. 7.
"I've been doing this too long to not recognize that it's the NBA, and you can say any team is coming in and I would have said 'Wow. We got our work cut out for us,'" coach Brett Brown said. "And we do. Right now, we are playing C-plus basketball. That's a fact. And we'll do as we've always done."
Aside from their 10-72 campaign three seasons ago, the Sixers have shown some improvement throughout the season during Brown's tenure as coach.
They had an identical record through eight games last season. And later in the season (Dec. 31, 2017), they fell two games under .500 at 17-19. But their fate changed after signing Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova to free-agent contracts through the end of that season in February.
The Sixers are expected to make a push to acquire four-time NBA All-Star Jimmy Butler via a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves, according to a report in the New York Times.
But for the time being, the Sixers lack the fire power to become a contender. The Fultz and Ben Simmons backcourt experiment has been a failure. That's because Fultz struggles to shoot from the outside and Simmons simply refuses to put up shots from the perimeter.
As a result, opponents sag way off them and double-team center Joel Embiid.
Defensively, the Sixers are struggling with their new scheme and, at times, with communicating. They're also having a tough time shutting down opposing players.
Toronto Raptors small forward Kawhi Leonard was the latest to do whatever he wanted against the team's revamped defense, scoring 31 points. Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine (30 points), Orlando Magic's Evan Fournier (31), Griffin, Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo (32), and Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker (37) have scored at least 30 against them.
The Sixers assigned Jonah Bolden to their NBA G League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats on Wednesday.