MIAMI — Right now, the 76ers look like a team in disarray.
The players will tell you they don’t know their roles, and that’s evident by watching them play. It appears that coach Brett Brown will need a deep postseason run just to keep his job. The Sixers have bad body language. And after Monday’s embarrassing loss to the Miami Heat, Ben Simmons uttered the word “soft” in describing his team’s play.
The team’s expected season to remember could end as a season of missed calculations if things don’t turn around.
The Sixers decided to bring back Brown after the coach was on the hot seat a season ago. They committed themselves to long-term maximum and close-to-maximum-salary contracts for Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford this summer.
Yet all of the expensive pieces have not fit in a season of major underachievement.
The Finals-or-bust Sixers (31-20) are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. They’re an enigma of a team, one that’s 22-2 at home and 9-18 on the road.
With four starters 6-foot-9 or taller, Brown said in the preseason his squad would play smash-mouth offense and bully-ball defense this season.
However, in recent road losses, it’s been a lot poor three-point shooting on offense and bullied-ball defense.
“We were soft,” Simmons said of losing the physicality battle on Monday.
Asked to elaborate, the 6-10 point guard said, "Soft is just don’t get bullied, fight over screens, get through screens. If you’ve got to knock somebody down, knock them over.
“If you’ve got to hit somebody in the face, knock them down to make sure they don’t score. Hit them in the face.”
But will they?
The thought is that the Sixers will make a small roster move before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.They could add a low-level shooter for a bottom-of-the-roster player and a second-round pick. NBA Sports Chicago said the Sixers are a potential landing spot for Bulls reserve guard Denzel Valentine, a career 37.1% three-point shooter. The Bulls selected him 14th overall out of Michigan State in the 2016 NBA draft.
Minnesota swingman Robert Covington, a former Sixer, is the type of player that would have been prized trade target. However, he will reportedly go back to the Houston Rockets, another former team, as a part of a four-team trade.
Not getting a guy like Covington could be a positive. If the front office is realistic, this isn’t the season to move good assets.
The Sixers could instead get a low-level shooter without disturbing their core. They could move Zhaire Smith or Jonah Bolden or Kyle O’Quinn and a second-round pick in a combination, depending on the shooter’s contract.
But adding that sort of shooter really won’t make a major improvement or shake things up.
The 137-106 setback to the Heat on Monday extended the Sixers’ losing streak to three games. It was also their fourth straight road loss and 10th in 12 games. And things aren’t about to get easier.
They head to Milwaukee for Thursday night’s game against the Bucks, the league’s best team. Philly defeated Milwaukee, 121-109, on Christmas Day at the Wells Fargo Center.
But since then, the Bucks (43-7) have won 16 of 18 games. The Sixers are 8-10 since Christmas.
The Sixers often talk about what needs to be corrected following losses. Yet the same thing happens over and over.
A prime example was their previous two games at Boston (Saturday) and Atlanta (Thursday). The Sixers’ defense was nonexistent in those outings. From a competitive standpoint, one would have thought they would have played more inspired defensively against the Heat.
“To see the team spirit, which is usually high in practice and off the court, not translate to the court is obviously a concern," Brown said of Monday’s performance. "The attitude of the group does not point to what ended up happening in the game, which normally is not the case.”
It was a game in which the Sixers lacked energy and at times had bad body language. As expected, they’re frustrated.
Brown’s naysayers are getting louder and questioning how long he will be able to keep his job. Fans are starting to be critical of general manager Elton Brand and his front office for the moves made this summer.