That homecourt advantage that the 76ers had enjoyed for most of the season has lost some luster the last two games, and the reason is that the Sixers haven’t been zoned in.
Failing to take advantage of a towering performance from Joel Embiid, and struggling once again against a zone defense, the Sixers lost to the Dallas Mavericks, 117-98, on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center.
It was the third straight loss for the Sixers (20-10) and their second straight home defeat. They are now 14-2 at home and host the Washington Wizards on Saturday.
The struggles against the zone have gotten into the Sixers’ heads, according to coach Brett Brown.
“I think that the influence that our inability lately -- to be put on our back heels because of the zone -- has crept into our defense, our psyche, our spirit, and I can’t stand it,” Brown said. “This is not who we are.”
Embiid says there is too much hesitancy.
“We were playing scared,” he said. "Basketball is easy. “Just shoot it, pass it, move it -- if you don’t have a shot, pass it -- but tonight we didn’t make shots and defensively we were pretty bad.”
Dallas (19-9) has become the opposite of the Sixers – strong on the road and so-so at home. The Mavericks improved to 11-2 on the road to continue a good week for the club after it snapped Milwaukee’s 18-game win streak on Monday.
The Mavs are just 8-7 at home.
Embiid finished with 33 points and 17 rebounds.
The Sixers shot just 10-for-34 (29.4%) from three-point range.
The Sixers cut Dallas’ lead to 94-87 when Trey Burke made a jumper with 7 minutes and 11 seconds left, but the Mavs then assumed control.
Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Mavs with 27 points.
The Sixers faced a considerable amount of zone defense, just as Miami did in Wednesday’s 108-104 win over the Sixers.
One again the Sixers struggled against the zone, and their defense was worse than it was against Miami.
“We were much better against the zone in my opinion,” said forward Al Horford, who had nine points. “I don’t think offensive was the problem, even though we missed shots. I think defensively, giving up 117 points is way too many points.”
This was the third straight game the Mavs have played without MVP candidate Luka Doncic, who is sidelined with a sprained right ankle. The 6-foot-7 Doncic is averaging 29.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 8.9 assists.
Starting in his place was former Villanova star Jalen Brunson, who has been a great find since being selected in the second round of the 2018 draft. The Sixers showed such respect for Brunson that they began the game with Ben Simmons guarding him. He finished with 11 points and seven assists.
Without Doncic, Dallas’ top offensive player is 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis.
Despite his size, Porzingis is not a post player and likes to hang around the perimeter. He has deep range, as evidenced by a 30-foot three-point field goal in the second quarter.
He also is ferocious when driving to the basket. And no doubt he alters shots that he doesn’t block.
Porzingis finished with 22 points, 18 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots.
Early on, nobody could stop Hardaway, who exploded for 19 first-quarter points, including going 5-for-5 from three-point range to give the Mavs a 35-28 lead.
Hardaway wouldn’t score in the second quarter, but the Mavs led by as many as 17, thanks to unheralded 6-6 second-year player Ryan Broekhoff.
He was just averaging 2.8 points in six games, but the Australian who played at Valparaiso had eight points, all in the first half.
Three-pointers by Furkan Korkmaz and Embiid in the final 31 seconds cut Dallas’ lead to 63-57 at halftime.