How good is this current group of 76ers?
Four games is far from a full body of work in the NBA. However, there’s been a trend through the Sixers’ first four games. It’s one that could lead you to believe they’ll pounce on the struggling Detroit Pistons Thursday at Wells Fargo Center, only to then lose there to the solid Atlanta Hawks Saturday.
The Sixers (2-2) began the season with a 20-point victory over the inadequate New Orleans Pelicans, who were without Zion Williamson. Then they were outscored 16-1 down the stretch of a five-point loss to the Brooklyn Nets. That was followed by a 12-point win against the league-worst Oklahoma City Thunder. And on Tuesday, they were manhandled in a 13-point loss to the New York Knicks.
So far, the result has been simple: Play a poor team and win big. Play a good team and find a way to lose.
The Sixers’ losses could be attributed to the absence of Ben Simmons, their top playmaker and best defender. The disgruntled Simmons, who wants to be traded, remains sidelined after telling the Sixers he is not mentally ready to play. Ball movement, point-guard play and Joel Embiid’s health along with his play against physicality are also areas of concern.
“Some of the shots we took in the first six minutes of the game were just one-pass shots,” Rivers said of the 112-99 to the Knicks. The Sixers “avoided physicality, no picks, no passing. That was as bad as I’ve seen us, and I didn’t like it.
“We’ll get it fixed.”
The ball was stuck for the Sixers in their games against the Nets and Knicks, which contributed to both losses.
Meanwhile, Maxey remains a work in progress as a lead guard.
The second-year player is averaging 14.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. But he’s shooting 20% on three-pointers, leading to defenders going under in pick-and-rolls. Defensively, Maxey also needs to be better and stop opposing guards from blowing past him.
“I got to knock down open shots,” Maxey said. “I got to keep pressuring the ball defensively. When I pressure the ball, it really speeds things up. It helps our defense out.”
The Sixers could get some point-guard help Thursday night. Shake Milton, who suffered a sprained right ankle during the preseason, is listed as questionable. Milton had supplanted Maxey as the starting point guard before the injury.
Embiid, who is dealing with right knee soreness, didn’t look like his normal self against the Knicks. Part of that had do with their physical play and double-teaming defense once he touched the ball.
That combination limited him to a season-low 14 points while making 2 of 7 shots. Embiid shot 0-for-5 in the first half and finished the game with five turnovers.
“It’s not an excuse, but I don’t think I’ve played like this to start the season or any stretch in my career,” Embiid said, referring to his knee. “So it’s not an excuse. I’m gonna keep pushing and hope for the best.”
Looking to be a playmaker for teammates, Embiid’s shot attempts (13.5 per game) are down from last season (17.6). But he settled for shots on the perimeter and made poor decisions against the Knicks.
“I wasn’t aggressive enough, not even close to where I should be,” Embiid said. “But we got a lot of work to do.”