Weird things tend to happen during an 82-game season. There are inevitably nights when nothing is falling from three-point range, when you can’t stop giving the ball away, when the opposition has 40 more field-goal attempts.
While Sunday’s 122-97 loss to the Nets in Brooklyn was, without a doubt, one of those odd, terrible nights for the Sixers, was it really an anomaly?
Talking to reporters after the game, Brett Brown was honest about the state of his team, which is now 0-5 on the road and 6-0 at home.
To win on the road, you better not turn it over at the rate we’ve been turning it over. You better have an incredible focus on rebounding. Historically, those are the tenets of road wins — caring for the ball and finishing plays with rebounds. … I think that togetherness, that toughness, that ability to take punches and come out together on the other side, that is part of growth. We don’t have that right now.
We are not, right now at this present moment, amongst the royalty in the East, and we understand that. It’s a badge that we want. It’s in us. But at this moment, after 11 games, that’s not where we are. And that’s OK. This group does have fight, this group does have pride, and we will find a win to move on, move up, move forward, and that’s my job.
The Sixers are averaging 18.8 turnovers per game on the road, compared to 14.5 at home. They’re pulling down 47.6 rebounds a night away from the Wells Fargo Center, 51.5 at home. While those two areas stand out for Brown, there is, unsurprisingly, no major statistical category in which the Sixers are better on the road.
The Raptors, Bucks and Sixers are the only teams undefeated at home in the Eastern Conference. And the basement-dwelling Cavaliers are the only other team in the East still winless away from home.
On the first day of training camp, Brown set the goal of an NBA Finals appearance. While he forecasted some growing pains over the first third of the season with the integration of Markelle Fultz into the starting lineup, the adjustment to assistant coach Billy Lange’s new defensive concepts, and the additions of Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler into the rotation, there’s no question he’d have expected the Sixers to have their first away win by this stage.
His stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, expected much more of themselves as well (see story).
“I think we have to take it upon ourselves to really point it out,” Simmons said. “You’re either going to bring it or you’re not.”
Even if the Sixers’ effort is better moving forward than their anemic showing on Sunday, it seems unlikely that more intensity will be the solution for all their underlying issues.
Fultz and Simmons have an 89.3 offensive rating in the 98 minutes in which they’ve shared the floor, the worst of any two-pairing with at least 47 minutes together on the team.
Though Dario Saric had his best shooting performance in the last few weeks against the Nets (3 for 6 night from the floor, 8 for 8 from the line) he still hasn’t had the breakthrough game the Sixers trust he eventually will.
Outside of Embiid, Simmons and Robert Covington (who quietly is tied for the league lead in steals and has the most deflections), the Sixers don’t have any strong individual defenders. That was also the case last season, when the team finished third in the NBA in defensive rating, but the lack of capable on-ball defenders has been glaring in this new, switch-heavy scheme.
At the end of the season, the Sixers still hope they’ll be the “royalty of the East,” with Sunday’s loss an early-season outlier.
For now, even though it may be tempting to toss aside a defeat as ugly as Sunday’s, they know it wouldn’t be honest to just chalk it up as a bad night in Brooklyn.
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