Joel Embiid wasn’t mincing words after his extraordinary performance was wasted in Saturday’s 112-109 overtime loss to the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers had allowed Cleveland 26 fast-break points, including 17 in the first half. Those transition points were crucial for a Cavaliers team that had only nine available players.
Limiting opponents’ transition scoring has been a seasonlong problem for the Sixers.
According to NBA.com stats, entering Sunday, the Sixers were allowing 16.3 transition points per game, the most in the NBA.
Embiid, who had 42 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists in Saturday’s loss, was asked after the game if he thought transition defense was an area that needed improvement on this team.
“For sure, I think we are last in the league,” he said. “We’ve been terrible all season.”
Embiid had no definite answer for the problem, only a theory.
“We are still trying to figure it out,” he said. “Maybe it has something to do with a lot of guys going for offensive rebounds.”
If that is the case, it isn’t paying great dividends. The Sixers are in the middle of the pack in offensive rebounding at 14th, averaging 10.4 per game.
Still, Embiid seems frustrated by the Sixers’ lack of consistency defending in transition.
“It’s been an issue all season. When we get to halfcourt, it is hard for teams to score against us, so that has been the main thing when it comes to our defense,” said Embiid who is listed as questionable for Monday’s home game against the Indiana Pacers with left ankle soreness. (Tobias Harris is also questionable with a bruised right knee).
Overall, the Sixers are a strong defensive team. They entered Sunday fifth in defensive rating, allowing 108.6 points per 100 possessions.
Part of the Sixers’ struggles on defense has to do with their penchant for committing turnovers. They are 27th in the NBA at 15.6 per game.
Only two NBA teams are allowing more points off turnovers per game than the Sixers’ average of 19.4.
Cleveland scored 18 points off the Sixers’ 18 turnovers.
Now the Sixers (22-12) will hope to rebound against the slumping Indiana Pacers (15-17), who have lost three in a row and eight of 11.
While Saturday’s loss was among the Sixers’ worst of the season, one of the best victories was their previous game against Indiana. That was a 119-110 win at Indiana on Jan. 31 in a game Embiid missed due to back tightness.
In that earlier win over the Pacers, the Sixers trailed by 20 points late in the third quarter and were still down 16 with 8 minutes, 16 seconds left before storming back.
It should be noted that the Pacers scored 25 fast-break points in that loss to the Sixers.
The Pacers are coming off Saturday’s 110-107 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Malcolm Brogdon, who is averaging 21.3 points, 6.4 assists, and 4.8 rebounds in 35.9 minutes, missed his first game of the season with a sore right knee. He had 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in the earlier loss to the Sixers. Brogdon (right knee soreness) is listed as questionable for the Sixers game, as is Jeremy Lamb (left knee soreness).
Brogdon was replaced by former Sixer T.J. McConnell in the starting lineup. McConnell had 17 points and 12 assists while playing 46 minutes and 20 seconds.