Sacramento Kings

This is how bad it can be without Joel Embiid

This is how bad it can be without Joel Embiid

The 76ers missed Joel Embiid’s defensive presence Tuesday night, as the seven-footer was held out for a second straight game with back soreness since playing 48 minutes in last Friday’s triple-overtime loss to the Thunder (see story).

Zach Randolph took advantage of his absence, scoring 27 points as the Sixers blew a 16-point lead and lost to the Kings, 101-95, at home (see observations).

“We were going to start him out [on Randolph],” Brett Brown said of Embiid. “We learned later this afternoon that Joel was not going to play. I think it was about [2 p.m.] that we learned that and our intention was to start Joel on Zach. I think he did a pretty good job in Sacramento with his length. I’m sure that hurt us not having that defensive matchup.”

Without Embiid, Amir Johnson, Trevor Booker and Richaun Holmes were tasked with stopping Randolph all night. The Sixers took care of the Kings’ big men on the boards, outrebounding them, 53-39, but couldn’t stop their low-post game.

Randolph started off the game hot, finishing two and-one buckets and knocking down a three-pointer in the first quarter to spark the Kings' 15-11 start. The second quarter was a different story, as the Sixers held the veteran forward scoreless.

Brown credited Holmes for the defensive spark off the bench.

“I thought Richaun did a pretty good job of battling him in the first half,” Brown said. “Physically, like moving his feet and sort of chesting up and not forcing us to get into a scramble and double-team type mode.”

Johnson helped the Sixers extend their lead at the start of the second half, finishing multiple baskets at the rim to make it 65-49. However, Randolph responded with 10 points in the period and the Kings trimmed the Sixers’ big lead to just seven points by the start of the fourth.

“[We just have to] hope he misses,” T.J. McConnell said. “He’s a really good player and he’s been doing the same thing for a long time. We had a game plan for him, but it doesn’t always work out.

“Like I said, he’s a really good player, so he’s going to get to his spots, it’s just about making things tough for him.”

In the fourth quarter, the Sixers allowed Willie Cauley-Stein to score six points and grab a few rebounds down low, while Randolph’s jump shot over Ben Simmons with 2:02 left helped seal the Sixers’ seventh loss in their last eight games.

“[We miss Embiid] a lot every game [he's out],” Simmons said. “But you know, we've got to learn to play without him. When he’s in, it’s great, but when he’s not here, we still have to play and compete, which is what we do. But we have to learn how to close out games.”

Familiar problems have Sixers in a funk

Familiar problems have Sixers in a funk

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The Sixers’ losing stretch has hit seven losses in the last eight games, and there is no quick fix for their recent struggles. The team that began the season quickly exceeding expectations by defeating playoff contenders is now fighting to get back to .500 amid a flurry of missteps. 

Pointing to Joel Embiid as an instant solution is not on the table. The big man missed Tuesday’s 101-95 loss to the Kings because of back tightness and his status for their next game Thursday is up in the air. 

Tuesday’s defeat — a game the Sixers led by as many as 16 points — was another instance of the Sixers not locking down a winnable matchup (see observations).

“I don’t think we’ve been focusing down the stretch, missing shots, not calling the right plays, just the little things like that,” Ben Simmons said. “It comes down to us focusing and making sure we’re committed to defense and offense at the same time.”

Turnovers have plagued the Sixers all season (and years beyond that). They rank worst in the league with 18.0 per game, and the errors have been in the spotlight in the last two losses because their opponents have capitalized on them. 

The Sixers have given up a total of 49 points off 40 turnovers over the last two games against the Bulls and Kings. That makes up for 22.5 percent of their opponents’ points in those games. They committed six turnovers against the Kings in the fourth quarter alone.  

Those late-game errors play into the Sixers’ second-half troubles. They led the Kings by 16 points in the third quarter, only to be outscored 13-0 to start the fourth. The Kings, fueled by that earlier jump, netted 30 points in the final quarter compared to 17 by the Sixers.

“[We] just got stagnant, really,” T.J. McConnell said. “Didn’t have flow like we did in the first half, and that’s kind been our M.O. Kind of just playing well all game and then get stagnant. We’ve got to buckle down, and that’s what cost us. Our defense wasn’t very good either. We had breakdowns, missed assignments. We’ve just got to be better, simple as that.”

The shooting struggles were prominent from long range. The Sixers went 10 for 35 from three (28.6 percent), including a 2-for-13 night by Robert Covington. The Sixers have the green light to shoot from beyond the arc, even during slumps, but they could mix in different looks at the basket without Embiid on the court. The Kings outscored them 48 to 32 in the paint, 15 points below the Sixers’ season average.

“I don’t know if we can pinpoint just one area, where maybe we’re missing shots or turning the ball over,” Jerryd Bayless said. “I think we’re doing a lot of things that are making it very difficult for us.”

Whether a team has a hot shooting night or not, the Sixers have to stay locked in for 48 minutes (or a few overtimes, as the case lately). It can be easy to get flustered when a lead dwindles away, but fighting until the end is required to become a playoff team. 

The Sixers will be better suited to do that when their injury list that includes Embiid, Markelle Fultz (shoulder) and Justin Anderson (shin splints) clears up. In the meantime, those who are available need to seize the opportunity to step up and make an impact. Brett Brown said part of navigating the lineup without Embiid is identifying offensive targets. 

The Sixers could get more scoring production from their consistent starters. Simmons, for example, attempted just six field goals in 33 minutes (13 points) (see highlights). Dario Saric, who has played well in the past without Embiid, shot 3 for 10 from the field. JJ Redick, who also went 3 for 10, left the game with right hamstring tightness.  

“I think we look forward to reclaiming some health, we look forward to reclaiming some form and rebuilding our confidence,” Brown said. “It’s a prideful group, they work hard. I think any time you have this volume of losses in the month of December, you have a tendency to second-guess, I’m sure, it’s human nature of all of us. But we will stay strong and stay together, welcome some healthy people back into the mix, and try to just get better.” 

The Sixers have to tackle the 20-8 Raptors in their next two games, one at home and one in Toronto where the Raptors are 11-1. 

"We all want to win," Simmons said. "Everybody wants to be here. It’s not one of those things where guys don’t want to win or anything like that. I think we’ll pull it together."

Sixers pull off yet another stunning collapse

Sixers pull off yet another stunning collapse

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The Sixers’ matchup against the Kings was winnable, even without Joel Embiid. 

However, instead of snapping their skid Tuesday on their homecourt against a sub.-500 opponent, they lost their seventh out of the last eight games and second of the season to the Kings, 101-95.

The Sixers fell to 14-16, while the Kings moved up to 10-20. 

The thing is, the Sixers had this game. They were up by 16 points with 9:07 remaining in the third quarter before being outscored 13-0 by the Kings to start the fourth. 

The Sixers’ struggles continued as they head into the next two games facing the 20-8 Raptors. 

• The Sixers were without Embiid for the second straight game. The team is being cautious with the big man as he deals with back tightness. Even though Embiid usually misses only one of two in a back-to-back set, this situation is not a complete surprise. He played a career-high 49 minutes in the Sixers’ triple-overtime loss to the Thunder last Friday while dealing with the lingering back issue. 

Embiid is day to day and his status for Thursday’s game against the Raptors at home is to be determined. He watched the game from the bench. 

• Thirty-six-year-old Zach Randolph stepped into the time machine with a 27-point performance. Randolph has been in the NBA so long, Ben Simmons was five years old when he made his debut in 2001. The veteran was a solid pickup for the Kings, as he brings experience and gritty determination to the young roster. 

• The Sixers’ offense stalled in the second half. With 10 minutes remaining in the game, T.J. McConnell was the only player to have more than four made field goals. Robert Covington scored a team-high 17 points (2 for 13 from three) and Jerryd Bayless scored 15 off the bench (4 for 8 from three). Simmons attempted just six field goals and still neared a triple-double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. 

• The Sixers were down another starter in the second half. JJ Redick was sidelined by right hamstring tightness. Redick started off the game slow (0 for 5 from the field) before knocking down a pair of threes (eight points). 

• Turnovers continue to plague the Sixers. They gave up 21 points off 20 turnovers. They weren’t helped by their shot selection. The Sixers went 7 for 27 from three while being outscored 48 to 32 in the paint. 

• A 2017 lottery pick matchup will have to wait until next season. No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz (shoulder) has been out and No. 5 pick De’Aaron Fox was ruled out for the second half because of a right quadriceps injury. The Kings’ point guard, who worked out for the Sixers hours before Fultz did the same during the pre-draft process, scored only two points and dished one assist in 11 minutes. He also missed the previous game because of right quadriceps contusion. 

• Reported new Phillies first baseman Carlos Santana was in attendance.