76ers

Halfway through the regular season, Sixers look a bit desperate in their search for identity

Halfway through the regular season, Sixers look a bit desperate in their search for identity

The Sixers are still searching. 

They’re halfway through the regular season and have yet to arrive upon a dependable identity.

Early in the season, there were hints that they’d done so. The team embraced a physical, attacking defensive style and a post-heavy offense sparse on pick-and-rolls. We thought they’d found it, in fact, after that scrap against the Timberwolves that seemed to captured the toughness and “bully ball”  mentality Brown had said he wanted to see.

Nothing stuck, though. 

Before the team’s 101-95 loss Monday night to the Pacers, Brown was asked for his definition of the Sixers' identity. He didn’t pretend he had a firm answer.

I think we’re learning,” he told reporters. “I know what I want it to be. To say, ‘Yep, that’s what it is’ would not be true. It’s changed even more now without [Joel Embiid] for a while. … We’re still figuring some stuff out. We have an opportunity — and I’ll use that word — to sort of solidify what’s life like without Joel. We miss him terribly — we’re completely different on both sides of the ball. But when we inherit Jo, when we absorb Jo back into the list when he does become available to us, we’re hoping that there’s been a little bit of momentum with our guys to grow that. So, to sort of anoint ‘this is who we are after the halfway mark,’ it’s difficult for me that do that.

Brown’s response was honest, if not satisfying. 

Against Indiana, he coached like he was grasping for solutions. He put Raul Neto in the game late in the third quarter ahead of Trey Burke, made Josh Richardson the primary ball handler in the fourth quarter and didn’t play an available James Ennis for the first time this season.

The results were mixed. Neto scored seven points in under four minutes, though he fell victim to T.J. McConnell’s relentless hustle as the former Sixer poked free a steal from behind the oblivious Neto that led to a Justin Holiday dunk on the other end. Richardson was tremendous in the final period, scoring 17 of his 23 points and nearly saving the game.

One imagines Ennis could have been valuable on a night in which the Sixers’ bench was outscored by the Pacers’, 31-18. The Sixers shot 6 for 33 as a team from three and Furkan Korkmaz was 1 for 5 in his 23 minutes.

There have been many unfortunate circumstances that help explain why the Sixers haven’t yet reached the level or clarity they’d like. Embiid’s injury — he's set to be re-evaluated in 1-2 weeks after undergoing surgery for a torn ligament in the ring finger on his left hand — and the general lack of health among the starting five is most obvious. The Sixers’ preferred starters have only played in 19 games together. 

The team’s poor outside shooting the last two games has obviously not been beneficial. They shot a combined 15 for 70 from three-point range (21.4 percent) against the Mavs and Pacers. When open look after open look is missing, desperation isn’t an irrational response. In that context, the second-half lapses on defense haven’t been surprising either.

“We’ve gotta execute,” Tobias Harris said. “We’ve gotta execute better on both ends. We’ve gotta get stops and we’ve gotta make plays. I think the first half defensively, we were pretty locked in. Second half, we let too many easy ones go their way. So, it’s an overall thing. And it’s on us to figure it out. Look, we can sit here and we can discuss everything about it and what went wrong every possession, but at the end of the day it’s the five guys who are on the court that go out there and get the job done and figure it out.”

We’ve seen enough to know that offensive issues are most pressing. The Sixers sit 17th in offensive rating and sixth in defensive rating. We also know they’ve been tremendous at home (18-2) and woeful on the road (7-14).

The Sixers are now 4-6 this season without Embiid and quite clearly a better team when he’s on the floor. His presence patches up various holes and makes the team less reliant on consistent offensive output from others. Simmons has been brilliant in his last two first halves, totaling 31 points on 14 for 18 shooting. He posted a combined four points on 1 of 10 shooting in the second halves of those games.

The question of Embiid and Simmons’ fit together is on hold for now, but it will resurface at some stage. A change (or changes) in personnel before the Feb. 6 trade deadline could shift things, too.

“Philadelphia hard,” Brown said of what he hopes his team’s identity will be. “Defense. Philadelphia hard. It’s a blue-collar city. It’s how I see the world, and that needs to be the starting point. And then you get down to the obvious stuff you’d say. Ben Simmons isn’t slow, and so you want to jump on him — he’s got the ball, you want to play fast. It’s probably easier to achieve that when you don’t have the need to — and it’s a great need — Joel Embiid is an All-Star and still is our crown jewel, make no mistake about that. 

“So, trying to find him in the post and play through him when he does come back, that split kind of personality offensively is a challenge at times, but that’s where it will end up. And for sure, that’s where it will end up in the playoffs. That’s what we’re trying to achieve.”

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Which Sixers player should represent the team in reported NBA2K players-only tournament?

Which Sixers player should represent the team in reported NBA2K players-only tournament?

Updated: 11:06 p.m. 

NBA fans are desperate for entertainment. 

With the season on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, the league is still aiming to provide some sort of distraction. According to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, the NBA is planning to have a players-only NBA2K tournament, and hopes to launch the event on Friday. Haynes reports the tournament will include 16 players and last 10 days. 

This report leads us to consider who might represent the Sixers if they have a player participating. 

Let’s rank the 15 players on the roster based on what we know about them as people, athletes and gamers. (This ranking is highly unscientific.) 

15. Al Horford — The oldest on the roster and a family man. Video games don’t seem like Horford’s cup of tea.

14. Kyle O’Quinn — He prefers yoga

13. Zhaire Smith — Smith doesn’t often have a lot of downtime. “When I have an off day or something and I’m not doing anything, I’ll watch the Sixers. I try my best to watch them, but usually I’m busy,” he said in January.

12. Tobias Harris — You might remember what Mike Scott said about Harris in October: “He reads books.” That’s not to say reading and 2K are mutually exclusive, but Harris doesn't appear a likely candidate to be a great gamer. 

11. Furkan Korkmaz — Korkmaz spent a large chunk of this summer playing for Turkey in the FIBA World Cup and working on his game and conditioning. He can’t have taken much time sharpening whatever 2K abilities he has. 

10. Raul Neto — Neto’s a fashionable, polished guy. He could very well be an excellent gamer, but he doesn’t fit the stereotype.

9. Norvel Pelle — He found out that he was going to be converted to an NBA deal while watching a movie in his bed. Make of that what you will. 

8. Josh Richardson — As of two years ago, Richardson said he was “trash” at 2K. He at least plays and would probably have an idea of what he was doing. 

7. Matisse Thybulle — We saw Thybulle lose to the Suns’ Mikal Bridges on Friday night. Defense was, ironically, his Achilles heel. 

6. Glenn Robinson III — It’s a big stretch, but Robinson was on a young Warriors team for the first half of the season and might have some relatively recent reps against solid, young competition.

5. Alec Burks — Ditto with Burks. 

4. Shake Milton — This is mostly gut feel (not that the other rankings are much different). Whatever the competition, Milton's poise can’t hurt. 

3. Joel Embiid — Embiid was apparently good enough to crush Markelle Fultz. We’re not sure exactly how good that is, but it’s something. 

2. Mike Scott — Back in 2011, he claimed to sport a 21-3 online record in 2K. Though he said last year that he quit on the game because “they made me so trash up there,” he can’t have entirely lost those skills. 

1. Ben Simmons — Simmons is the Sixers’ most accomplished gamer by far and says he “can play any game.” He’s the clear pick unless there’s someone out there with a hidden talent. 

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Remembering the emotional night when Sixers retired Charles Barkley's jersey

Remembering the emotional night when Sixers retired Charles Barkley's jersey

Nineteen years ago today, the Sixers rose Charles Barkley’s No. 34 up to the rafters.

Barkley, who’d retired the year before after a stint with the Rockets, was touched by the honor. (You can check out footage from that night in the video above.)

“This is one of the greatest nights of my life and I’m honored to share it with you guys,” he said.

In eight seasons as a Sixer, Barkley made six All-Star games and averaged 23.3 points and 11.6 rebounds. He made the NBA Finals with the Suns and was named MVP in 1993, the season after he was traded from the Sixers. 

The team unveiled a statue of Barkley on Legends Walk in September at their practice facility in Camden, New Jersey. Never hesitant to speak his mind, he doubled down on calling the Sixers the “stupidest organization in the history of sports” for having Joel Embiid play through a back injury last January and said not taking Brad Daugherty No. 1 in the 1986 NBA Draft was “the biggest mistake the Sixers ever made."

Barkley still looks back fondly on his time as a Sixer while acknowledging things often weren’t smooth or painless.

“This is not an easy city,” he said in September, “but it’s an amazing city to play in because if you bust your hump, they’re giving to give you nothing but love. Now, if you don’t bust your hump, you’re going to think, ‘Charles Barkley, you suck.’ You’re going to think that’s your middle name.”

As a footnote, the Sixers beat the Warriors on the night of Barkley’s jersey retirement for their 50th win of the season. Allen Iverson had 35 points and nine assists, while Tyrone Hill scored 21.

“You see someone as tough as Charles Barkley try to hold in his tears, that’s a moment that I’ll never forget,” Iverson told reporters. “It just looked great. It looked like something that I’d definitely want to be a part of.”

Iverson’s No. 3 would be retired nearly 14 years later. 

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