CLEVELAND -- What’s the next step for the 76ers under the circumstances?
The team looks nothing like a squad that’s among the favorites to win the NBA title. Truth be told, the Sixers (7-5), right now, have their hands full against some of the league’s worst teams.
They have lost two straight games and five of their last seven. On Sunday, the Sixers will face a Cleveland Cavaliers squad at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse that they were fortunate to beat on Tuesday.
They held on for a 98-97 victory over Cleveland (4-7), thanks to Cavs power forward Kevin Love missing a wide-open three-pointer with 3.8 seconds left.
The Sixers followed that up with consecutive road losses to struggling teams, the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Magic (5-7) had lost four of their previous five games before beating the Sixers on Wednesday. And the Thunder (5-7) had lost two straight games and three out of four.
So how do the Sixers regroup after these tough losses?
“If you’re sick and you don’t know why, then that’s a problem,” coach Brett Brown said. “We’re in a tough spot right now. But it’s a long year. I think it doesn’t take much for me to understand where we have to get better, and it’s really that simple.”
Turnovers, foul trouble and shaky three-point shooting are the Sixers’ biggest shortcomings. But if Friday’s loss was an indication, the Sixers’ list of problems appears to be growing. They take pride in their defense, especially with Joel Embiid under the rim. But the Thunder were penetrating with ease, especially late in the game.
The Sixers’ game plan of pressuring guys to drive the lane against Embiid backfired. The two-time All-Star center didn’t do a great job of protecting the rim. Oklahoma City was also able to hit a lot of floaters and pull-up jumpers.
“We talk about it all the time, it’s hard, especially in the pick-and-roll situation with me so far back,” Embiid said. “And then you got to worry about the roller and worry about the guard. So we kind of got to play a cat-and-mouse game when you kind of fake [picking up the ball handler], and then fake it, they’re going to find the roller. Or if you’re still on the roller, they’re going to get a layup.”
The Sixers were fourth in the league in steals per game (9.4) heading into Saturday’s NBA action. They were also fifth in deflections (17.2), 10th in defensive rating (104.4) and 11th in blocks (5.5).
“We’ve been good at defense, I think,” Embiid said. “But when you look at the best defensive teams, they pack the paint and make other teams shoot threes. We’re more worried about the three, and are trying to force guys into those pull-ups and floaters.”
In regards to turnovers and inconsistent shooting, the Sixers know the problem. They’ll tell you that it’s something they work through and/or is easily correctable. Time will tell. But after 12 games, it’s obvious that some guys just aren’t consistent shooters or dependable ball handlers. Yet, they are in these roles due to the Sixers’ scheme.
So the Sixers might consider trading for someone that fits better into the scheme they’re running or just change the scheme.
Right now, Brown is trying to figure out who on his bench fits best into his rotation. So that in itself could lead to some growing pains.
However, it’s hard to imagine why a team that started the season with so much promise and lofty expectations is struggling mightily.