No excuse for the Sixers being outscored 35-13 and blowing a 21-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
The 76ers’ 100-97 road loss to the Nuggets Friday night was a huge disappointment.
Even with point guard Ben Simmons sidelined by a sprained right shoulder, there’s no excuse for the Sixers being outscored 35-13 and blowing a 21-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
Rather than dwell on the specifics of the Sixers’ third straight defeat after starting the season 5-0, let’s take more of a big-picture approach and look at why they’ve lost and what needs to change.
Joel Embiid’s conditioning
After sitting out a two-game suspension for his fight with the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid’s numbers (23 points and 15.5 rebounds) in losses to the Jazz and Nuggets look good. But his clear drop-off in conditioning is the biggest reason for his 11 turnovers, including eight against Denver.
The immensely talented Embiid has repeatedly said basketball is his only exercise, so injuries and suspensions typically result in a less-effective Embiid when he returns. That must not continue, especially since the Sixers are still searching for somebody to take the last shot. If Embiid isn’t a viable option, it’s unclear who else is.
Al Horford’s minutes
Al Horford is averaging 32 minutes per game, which is certainly more than Brett Brown would prefer for a 33-year-old big man. But with Embiid already missing three games — two because of his suspension and one for load management — Horford has had to fill in for Embiid at center three times rather than start alongside him. His two-highest minute totals (34 and 35) have come sans Embiid.
Horford has been very good — Friday’s fourth-quarter shooting woes notwithstanding. He brings so much to the Sixers at both ends of the court.
While coach Brett Brown wants to establish a level of success with a core group featuring newcomers Horford and Josh Richardson, Horford was bothered by left knee soreness for much of the 2018-19 season in which he averaged 29 minutes. Continuing to play Horford relatively heavy minutes could prove costly at playoff time, when the Sixers need Embiid and Horford healthy and productive.
All-star point guard Simmons has attempted just five of his 79 field goal attempts from beyond 10 feet. While he’s taking and making 3-pointers after practice and before games, Simmons is rarely willing to shoot even short jumpers in games.
It appears to be a continuing (lack of) confidence issue. That he hasn’t been effective from 3 to 10 feet (6 for 32, 18.8 percent) isn’t helping matters.
Expect more teams to try the Suns’ strategy of putting a center on the 6-foot-10 Simmons and having him back way off, daring Simmons to try mid-range jumpers.
Waiting for Tobias
While Tobias Harris’ scoring average (18.2 to 18.9) and shooting percentage (46.9 to 49.6) are up somewhat from his 27 regular-season games in Philly last year, his 3-point percentage (32.6 to 29.4) is down.
The idea was for Harris to be more involved – from pick-and-roll opportunities to the perimeter-in the offense in the walke of Jimmy Butler moving on to the Heat. It’s only been eight games, but that hasn’t seemed to be the case so far for the $180 million man.
There have been some encouraging signs, such as the play of third-year wing Furkan Korkmaz, who has hit 47.1 percent of his 3-pointers. Korkmaz (8.9 points) is the top scorer on a better-than-expected bench.
All of this is not to say the Sixers cannot end up in the NBA Finals. They’ve played six of their first nine games on the road, including the last four on a Western Conference trip, heading into Sunday night’s home date with the Hornets that Simmons will miss.
The schedule is easing up. A few adjustments that we’ve mentioned would help, too.
Tom Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org; @TomMoorePhilly