MILWAUKEE — The 76ers are far from road warriors. They have ended up more like roadkill when venturing away from their home arena.
But their confidence was high heading into their game Saturday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Sixers were riding a four-game winning streak — all at home — and looked at this game as a barometer of their improvement.
“I want to see us playing at a high level,” coach Brett Brown said earlier in the day. "I’ve said, and it’s going to be repetitive, and it’s true. It’s their health, their spirit, and their form.
“That’s the recipe to land the plane. That’s the recipe to deliver a team to the playoffs.”
Unfortunately for the Sixers, they didn’t remain healthy and didn’t hit shots.
The Bucks prevailed, 119-98, as they handed the Sixers their sixth straight road loss and 12th in 14 games. The Sixers (35-22) are 9-20 away from home.
That’s a mind-boggling record, considering they are a league-best 26-2 home record.
So is the vast difference a matter of just not being as good of a team on the road?
“I don’t accept that at all,” Brown said following the game. "As I said before, it’s a house built on sand otherwise. You’ve got to conquer your miseries of what is going on on the road.
“As far as looking into this game too much, I will not. And none of us is going to overreact.”
The Sixers trail the Bucks in the season, 2-1. Milwaukee improved its league-best record to 48-8.
Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with game highs of 31 points and 17 rebounds, while Khris Middleton added 25 points for the Bucks.
Ben Simmons returned to action but was unable to finish the first quarter after aggravating his lower-back injury. According to reports, Simmons will be having an MRI of his back on Sunday.
Joel Embiid also took his share of bumps and bruises. The Sixers center suffered a small laceration under his left eye in the first quarter. Then he leaned over and grabbed his back at the end of the first half. And Embiid had a hard fall on his back while picking up his fourth foul 46 seconds into the second half.
But he was able to complete the game, finishing with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and one block. The three-time All-Star was also hampered by foul trouble and made just 5 of 18 shots. In his last two games against Milwaukee, Embiid shot 11-for-44.
He wasn’t the only Sixer to have a subpar shooting night.
The team shot a season-low 35% from the field. It didn’t help that Tobias Harris (11 points, 3-for-10 shooting), Josh Richardson (nine points, 4-for-10), and reserves Al Horford (3, 1-for-7) and Alec Burks (3-for-13) combined to shoot 11-for-40.
Philly also struggled defensively, as the Bucks shot 52.7% from the field.
While Antetokounmpo is the reigning league MVP, the Sixers didn’t do a good job of following their defensive game plan of showing him a big crowd.
“I thought we didn’t do a great job of that,” Harris said. "We let him get downhill a little bit too much, and they were able to make shots.
“They made a lot of shots. Give them credit. But a lot of it we could have kind of limited at different points of the game.”
The Sixers never led in the game.
Simmons irritated his lower back on a layup with 8 minutes, 24 seconds left in the first quarter. He stayed in the game and made a foul shot at the 7:21 mark. He subbed himself out 5 seconds later. And headed straight to the locker room
The point guard had five points, two rebounds, one assist, and one block in 4:44 of action. He made both of his field-goal attempts. Simmons continued to receive treatment on his back in the locker room during the game. He wasn’t in the locker room after the game for media availability.
This comes after Simmons missed Thursday night’s 112-104 overtime home victory over the Brooklyn Nets because of the injury.
The Bucks opened up a 25-point lead on Khris Middleton’s three-pointer with 3:15 left in the third quarter.
Heading into the game, finding a backup point guard and correcting defensive miscues were the Sixers’ top priorities.
The defensive problems have tied into the road woes Philly has.
Brown wanted his team more determined to follow a scouting report and know the personnel they’re guarding.
That’s because the Sixers went into Saturday’s game with the league’s second-best scoring defense, surrendering 106.2 points a game. They give up an average of 101.9 points in their 28 home games, but were yielding 110.5 points in their first 28 road games.
“Being locked into the defensive side of it,” Brown said. “Not letting our offense get crippled, because of our defensive inadequacies at times on the road.”
The Sixers also need to clear up their rotation. Their desire is to have Simmons as a screen-setting playmaker, more than just an on-the-ball point guard.
“Well then, who’s the backup?” Brown said. "Is Alec the guy? Is J-Rich [Richardson] the guy? You know, am I going to jump into Shake [Milton] stuff? So offensively, it ties into rotation and personnel.
“Those are some of the high-level things on my mind.”
Burks is a scoring threat off the bench. The Sixers acquired him in a trade with the Golden State Warriors.
“Now, do I put him in those positions as the point guard to do well?” Brown said. “Do I look him into stuff and getting him the ball?”