Brett Brown keeps saying it will be around Christmastime until the 76ers truly begin to jell. And whether that happens by then or not, the team has yet to hit its stride as the NBA season reaches the quarter pole.
That said, the Sixers are 14-6, including 9-0 at home.
What we know about the Sixers is that they will fight, with this past weekend a prime example. They were down by as many as 16 points in the second quarter and 12 points at halftime on Friday at New York while missing two starters. The Sixers outscored the Knicks, 62-44, in the second half to win, 101-95.
Yes it was the Knicks, a team once again destined for the lottery, but it still showed some grit to be able to come back on the road.
The same thing occurred in an opposite fashion in Saturday’s 119-116 home win over the Indiana Pacers. The Sixers led by as many as 15 points midway through the second quarter, saw the lead totally evaporate to 65-65 at the half and then led by the defensive effort of Ben Simmons, pulled it out in the end. This came against a Pacers team that looks to be a factor in the Eastern Conference.
So where does that leave the Sixers?
At this point, there is one universal theme involving the team.
“We still got a lot of work to improve,” said Joel Embiid after he scored 32 points and hit all 15 of his free throws against the Pacers. “We can be so much better.”
It’s scary that the Sixers, who host the Utah Jazz on Monday, have so many areas to improve.
Take the Pacers game as an example. The Sixers calling card is their defense, but the Pacers shot 58.1 percent in the first three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, the Pacers hit 4 of 7 threes. But the Sixers forced nine turnovers, including three by Simmons and two by Embiid. That was the difference.
The Sixers beat the Knicks without Al Horford, who was getting the night off for rest, and Josh Richardson, who missed both weekend games with right hamstring tightness. Richardson has proven to be an invaluable two-way player.
That the Sixers are 4-0 with Richardson sidelined has been a testament to their depth, although they never know who will emerge off the bench and produce. Lately it has been 6-foot-6 James Ennis III, who earns his minutes with his defense. And in his last eight games Ennis is shooting 56 percent from three-point range while averaging 9.8 points. He shot 25 percent from beyond the arc and averaged 4.8 points in his first eight games.
“I am very confident in my three-pointer,” Ennis said after Saturday’s win. “If I have an open look, I will take it.”
The Sixers still need more consistent play off the bench and really with the starters as well. One thing is undeniable thought: despite being a work in progress, they have a team that can overwhelm the opponent with talent.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons and that is why they are one of the top teams,” said Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis, who should get all-star consideration. “It is not just one player, you have to stop several guys.”
What Brown and the players would like to see is more consistency. Opponents seem to hang around longer than they should against the Sixers Of their 20 games, 13 have been decided by six points or fewer or have gone into overtime. The Sixers are 8-5 in those games.
Between now and the Christmas Day matchup against the visiting Milwaukee Bucks, the Sixers have 13 games, enough time to have a better handle on this team than currently exists.