DENVER — You had to know the 76ers’ recent West Coast road trip was going to be challenging.
They have too many new faces to realistically have continuity at this time.
Yes, the Sixers (5-3) received a lot of preseason hype for having a talented and towering starting lineup. Yet, they’re not even close to figuring out ways for Al Horford and Joel Embiid to co-exist in a dominating way.
The Sixers don’t have a dependable closer. The coaching staff is still trying to figure out the reserves it can depend on. And they are looking to see who to pair together in certain lineups.
So it’s going to take time for the Sixers to resemble the dominant squad they’re hyped up to be.
They showed us in the first five games of the season that they are capable of beating teams on sheer talent. But even in those victories, you saw several flaws. So much so that some will argue they were fortunate to beat the Pistons (Oct. 26), Hawks (Oct. 28) and Trail Blazers (Nov. 2).
Heck, if not for Furkan Korkmaz’s game-winning three-pointer against the Blazers, the Sixers may have gone 0-for-4 out West.
Yet, history has shown that it’s not time for the Sixers to panic.
Even the most talented teams go through growing pains before ultimately reaching elite status when adding a lot of new pieces.
For proof, think back to the 2010-11 Miami Heat.
The team signed future Hall of Famers LeBron James and Chris Bosh to play alongside another future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade. During the introductory press conference, James said the trio came together to win not just to just one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven NBA titles.
However, that team was clinging to a 9-8 record through 17 games before winning 21 of their next 22 games.
After concluding the regular season with a 58-24 record, the Heat lost to Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. Miami did, however, win back-to-back NBA titles the following two seasons.
“They started to figure it out,” Horford said of the Heat during the 2010-11 season. "I don’t think we are that far. But I feel like we made some strides.
“What’s going to help us is the more games we continue to play, the more we get used to playing with one another, everything is going to come together.”
But playing together has been a problem since the preseason.
All five starters — Tobias Harris, Horford, Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Ben Simmons — were intact for two of the five preseason games and have only played together in four of their eight regular-season games. Embiid sat out the Pistons game with a sprained right ankle. Then he served a two-game suspension when the Sixers played Portland and Phoenix.
Then Simmons exited Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz in the second quarter with Grade 1 AC joint sprain in his right shoulder. That injury sidelined him for Friday’s matchup against the Denver Nuggets. He will also miss Sunday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Wells Fargo Center.
So the starting lineup hasn’t exactly had a lot on-court time to jell.
Perhaps, that’s why the Sixers are basically the same squad of the last two seasons.
Embiid is out of shape and appears overweight. Teams are baiting Simmons to shoot from the perimeter. As we learned on Friday, the Sixers are still blowing huge fourth-quarter leads and not making the proper in-game adjustments. And for the most part, the coaching staff is trying to figure out how to utilize their new reserve players.
“Everything is a process,” reserve point guard Trey Burke said. “Everything that is going to be great is a process. It’s not going to be overnight. Not only are the players trying to figure things out, the coaches are trying figure things out, too.”
They are trying to figure out which players plays well together. That’s not easy with a lot of new faces.
“We got a lot of talent in this room," Burke said, “and we’ll figure it out.”