TORONTO – Joel Embiid made no bones about it.
“I [stunk],” the 76ers center said after Wednesday night’s 113-102 loss to the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena.
The NBA All-Star didn’t stop there.
“In fact, the past few games, I’ve been so trash,” Embiid said. “So I got to figure that part out if I want to help the team win some games.”
The MVP candidate had one of his worst shooting performances of the season Wednesday. He made just 5 of 17 shots (29.4 percent) en route to finishing with 10 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, four turnovers, and two blocks. He also looked sluggish on the defensive end. The 7-foot-2, 270-pounder was a step slow, was moved off his spot, and had a hard time keeping Raptors reserve center Jonas Valanciunas in front of him.
But Embiid, who is averaging a career-best 34.3 minutes, has really looked out of sorts on the offensive end lately. He has shot a combined 14-for-42 in the Sixers' last three games, against the Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies (Sunday) and Washington Wizards (Nov. 30).
However, Embiid still hasn’t fully adjusted to playing with four-time All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler, who, like the 24-year-old, thrives on attacking the basket. Embiid is shooting 43.1 percent (88-for-204) in Butler’s 11 games as a Sixer after he was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a trade. Embiid was shooting 48 percent (134-for-279) in the 15 games before the trade.
At the start of the season, the Sixers (17-9) wanted Embiid to incorporate more of what they call “Bully Ball,” getting the ball in the paint and attacking the rim, into his game. That led to more free-throw attempts for him.
“We sometimes have to space the floor,” Embiid said. “A lot of time actually with the way our plays are set up, I tend to spend of a lot of time on the perimeter. So it’s an adjustment.”
The Sixers might need to figure out how to create more scoring opportunities for him down low. But for now, “I got to do a better job,” Embiid said. “It’s on me. I haven’t been efficient and have to make sure I work on my game.”
The spacing wasn’t as much of an issue in the previous 10 games because the Sixers played mostly inferior teams. In the Raptors (21-5), they played an elite NBA squad.
“We traded, and we’re still learning how to play with each other,” Embiid said. “I’m finding my spots on the floor, but I haven’t been good. I need to do better.”
Embiid should get an emotional lift from facing All-Star center Andre Drummond and Detroit Pistons on Friday at the Little Caesars Arena.
Embiid dominated Drummond in a 109-99 victory at the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 2. Embiid had 39 points and a game-high 17 rebounds and did most of his damage in the first half, scoring 32 points and hitting 15 of 17 foul shots.
It’s not surprising that Embiid came out fired up against Drummond. The two have a history of going back and forth with each other. So much so that the Sixers' standout said, “I feel like I own a lot of real estate in his head” after frustrating Drummond in the Pistons' 133-132 overtime victory Oct. 23 in Detroit
"I knew that after the trash talk I had last game, I knew that he was going to be excited," Embiid said back on Nov. 2. "That's why I get all those guys that guard me, because I know they are going into a matchup so excited. I'm going to take advantage of that."
After that game, Embiid posted on his Instagram page and on Twitter: “I own a lot of real estate in @andredrummondd head and I’m on my way to build more #Bum #TheProcess”
He didn’t stop there. Embiid also posted on Instragram a video of Drummond dancing with the caption “mood.”