The 76ers are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, following their big Christmas day victory over the Bucks. There was a stat I put out last week that said a lot about the 76ers in 2019.
It showed just how good the 76ers were when they win the rebounding battle in the game (21-4). Over this three-game losing streak, the 76ers won the rebounding battle twice and still lost both games. So it’s fair to ask, what changed? We are going to take a look at what went down last week and how the Sixers are going to have to address it moving forward.
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Bucks vs 76ers Dec 25
The Sixers played their best basketball of the season on Christmas day. It was an elite performance from the effort through the execution. The 76ers turned the ball over just 7 times and had a whopping 29 assists. The Sixers also shot 48% from three. The effort and execution was brilliant.
Giannis was held to just 18 points and went 0-7 from three. The Sixers were dominated in the paint for scoring (54 to 34) but they were still +2 on the boards. The Sixers also did a great job keeping the Bucks off the free-throw line, allowing only 8 free throws (4 from Giannis) all game. It was exactly the kind of performance we’ve waited a whole season for. The only question going forward is, will we see more consistency and more effort night in and night out?
Magic vs 76ers Dec 27
Forget the Christmas day miracle. The 76ers we saw that day were either hijacked by the Monstars or they just decided they were going to show up and the Magic would just lay down. The Sixers were outrebounded by three, outscored in the paint by 12, and lost the assist battle by three as well.
Both teams committed 15 turnovers and the Sixers shot just 40% from the field. It’s one thing to have an off-night shooting, but the aggression inside was just not there. The Sixers went just 10-29 from three and appeared to be satisfied just trying to settle for threes and ignore the elephant in the room (the zone defense they were facing). It was the second time recently an opponent played a zone defense to hinder the Sixers and it worked, again. With a game against the Heat coming less than 24 hours later, the Sixers had only a short time to regroup.
Heat vs 76ers Dec 28
The Sixers faced off against the Heat on Saturday only ten days after the Heat upset them at home. The 2-3 zone once again got the best of the Sixers. Despite 47% shooting from the field, the Sixers again leaned too much on the three (10-30 from deep) and the temptations to settle for threes and difficult mid-range shots was too much. The Sixers committed only 9 turnovers in the game but the 8 from the Heat was the difference.
The Sixers won the rebounding battle (+4) but again failed to do much in the paint as the Heat outscored them by two in the paint. This 2-3 zone has become an official issue for the Sixers. The temptation to settle for pull-up threes and soft spots in the mid-range has been very detrimental to the team’s movement, flow, and tenacity around the basket. It’s hindering ball movement and cutting out the driving lanes the Sixers previously found with ease.
Pacers vs 76ers Dec 31
The Sixers played Tuesday’s game without the aid of Joel Embiid, who had a monster game against the Heat in a close road loss in overtime. Embiid was dealing with a sore left knee. Sabonis and the Pacers took advantage of the absence. The Sixers defense looked awful. They weren’t closing out.
They were letting Sabonis telegraph easy bounce passes under the basket. With the exception of Simmons and Harris, the Sixers weren’t too interested in the game overall. Al Horford was just 2-12 from the field (1-4 from deep). Despite the +9 rebounding advantage, the Sixers were just 6-29 from deep. Someone should probably tell them it isn’t a requirement for the team to attempt 30 threes a game, but it’s the result of them facing a 2-3 zone and they still haven’t figured it out.
The Sixers again turned in a weak effort moving the ball (24 assists) and were outscored by 8 in the paint and were -6 on turnovers. It was another week performance to extend the losing streak to three games and leaves us with even more questions about the chemistry and coaching of this team.
The first hurdle of 2020
With all the questions around chemistry, offensive identity, spacing, poor defensive effort, and issues against a 2-3 zone, the first real player issue of the season has surfaced. Al Horford is starting to feel uneasy with the Sixers. Following their third straight loss, Horford was quoted as saying “I’m very limited with the things I can do”. One can optimistically interpret that as him admitting he’s getting older and he isn’t the same player, but in the context of the questions surrounding it, it more than likely means Horford is upset he isn’t being utilized in the manner that best maximizes his abilities.
It’s hard to argue against Horford as the team seems to take a different form each night and not just each night, each play on the court. For the last year, the talk has been largely positive, with fans and critics praising the “versatility” of this team and resting their hopes on the Sixers evolving on offense and developing an effective offensive identity, but it hasn’t yet come to fruition.
For now, we can only hope the chemistry can improve and this team can overcome the hurdles like the 2-3 zone as they popup. This week should be a good test for the postseason to see whether Brett Brown can make the appropriate adjustments to prepare this team for the postseason run.