SALT LAKE CITY — Doc Rivers initially spoke about the 76ers being in a little rut with key players out of the lineup.
The coach added that his team can’t worry about missing Joel Embiid and Matisse Thybulle — who both remain in COVID-19 health and safety protocols— saying there’s “no cavalry coming” and the Sixers must play with who they have. But he later acknowledged they have no margin for error without those two players.
“We almost have to play perfect to have a chance to win a game,” Rivers said. “For a while, we were doing that. Right now, we are not.”
Rivers recognized the Sixers’ chances of winning are slim at the moment, but his team has a chance to steal a victory if they stay locked in, execute, and get a couple of breaks.
That hasn’t happened in over a week.
The Sixers (8-7) take a five-game losing streak into Thursday’s game against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. They’ve plummeted from first place to eighth in the Eastern Conference standings during that time.
“There’s nobody here worried,” Rivers said. “It’s just a long season. When you have the injuries that we have and the games that we’ve played ... listen, I want to win every game. But I do understand what we’re under right now, too.”
Embiid and Thybulle have both sat out for significant time. Thybulle will miss his seventh consecutive game Thursday, while Embiid will be out for his sixth game. Rivers hopes they will be able join the Sixers on their current six-game road trip, which concludes on Nov. 24 against the Golden State Warriors. Thybulle has a better chance of joining the team than Embiid does.
Meanwhile, Danny Green will miss his second straight game with left hamstring tightness. And disgruntled point guard Ben Simmons has yet to play this season after telling the team he’s mentally unable to play.
The Sixers have reserve guys playing starters’ minutes while they are undermanned. That has left them exhausted by the fourth quarter. Rivers also has leaned on some strange lineups without his full complement of players. And on occasion, roles haven’t been defined when adversity arrived in games.
A lot of this has contributed to Furkan Korkmaz’s struggles over the last four games. The same issues and a bruised foot could have also contributed to Seth Curry’s less-than-stellar play over the past three games.
Curry shot 1-for-8 and finished with five points in Tuesday’s 120-85 loss to the Utah Jazz. The Sixers shooting guard missed all seven of his first-half attempts and was a game-worst minus 33. He’s shooting 8-for-30 (26.6%) from the field over the past three games.
With Embiid sidelined, it’s easy to point to teams shifting their defensive focus to Curry and Korkmaz. Before testing positive for COVID, Embiid constantly drew double teams, which opened things up for the team’s sharpshooters.
But on Tuesday, the Sixers missed a lot of open looks. It was obvious that, even after two days off, they didn’t have their legs.
“Some guys are in, some guys are out,” Korkmaz said of the lineups. “There’s different plays that we’re running. ... But I think it’s my thing. I’ve been through this before; it’s not a big deal for me.”
The fifth-year veteran has had his share of shooting slumps. However, he’s definitely struggling.
He airballed two three-point attempts against the Jazz. Korkmaz also had a reverse layup attempt hit the bottom of the backboard. He finished with six points on 2-for-12 shooting, while missing all six of his three-point attempts. Korkmaz has shot 10-for-49 (20.4%), including 6-of-32 threes (18.7%), over the last four games.
“I’m just going to forget about this and keep focusing on the next game,” he said after Tuesday’s bad outing.
But the next game could be as lopsided as Tuesday’s 35-point setback. The Nuggets (9-5) are led by the reigning league MVP Nikola Jokić. Denver is fifth in the league in scoring (110.9 points per game), fifth in rebounding (47.3), and fourth in opposing-team scoring (102.2).
The Sixers know they’ll need to communicate better and prevent opposing players from getting to their spots on the floor to snap the skid.
“I think our own problem right now is we are overthinking,” Korkmaz said. “We are overthinking offensively and defensively. We are afraid to make a mistake; myself too. We just have to be free. We just got to play like ourselves.”
The Turkish standout acknowledged that he hasn’t been himself the past couple of games. However, he mentioned the team chemistry.
“I feel like we are not playing with the spirit we needed to play with,” said Korkmaz, who reiterated Sixers need to play free. “... We just need to stick to the game plan. It doesn’t matter if it works out or not.
“And at the end of the day, if you don’t win one game, two games, you are going to get the third one.”