Joel Embiid's struggles continue in Sixers' loss to Raptors

Joel Embiid's struggles continue in Sixers' loss to Raptors

Even MVP candidates have rough nights.

Unfortunately, it was one of those evenings for Joel Embiid in Toronto. The Sixers’ four-game winning streak was snapped in a turnover-ridden 113-102 loss to the Raptors Wednesday (see story). The All-Star center was just 5 of 17 from the floor and matched a season-low with 10 points. 

To pour more salt in the wound, Raptors starting center Serge Ibaka (18 points on 7 of 13) and backup five Jonas Valancunias (26 points on 9 of 13) both got the better of Embiid.

On many nights, Embiid is the best player on the floor. Just about every night, he’s the best big on the floor. That wasn’t the case Wednesday

After the game, Embiid was his usual blunt self in assessing his play to reporters after the game.

We turned the ball over a lot and we gave up a lot of offensive rebounds and I sucked …

I wasn’t making anything. In fact, the last few games I’ve been so trash so I’ve got to figure that part out if I want to help the team win some games.

It may be a bit of an overreaction from Embiid, who sounded dejected postgame. 

Embiid leads the league, taking 10.4 free throws a game. Wednesday, he took one trip to the line and missed both shots. Clearly, he was frustrated, picking up a technical in the fourth.

Coming into tonight, Embiid was averaging 27 points, 13.4 rebounds and two blocks a game. He’ll be in historic company if he finishes around those numbers. 

He’s put the league on notice. With that, comes extra attention on the floor.

“They did a good job of going at him — double-teaming him,” Brett Brown said. “They did a good job of pushing him off the block probably two or three more feet farther than we’d hope. They did a good job of pressuring him in general. 

“That’s part of it: He’s that good. He is having a year that warrants high-level accolade discussion, but tonight was just a down night for him and I got to help him.”

To an extent, Wednesday was just one of 82 games.

Then again, Embiid has really struggled over his last three games from the field. He’s shot just 33 percent (14 of 42) over that span. 

His numbers are slightly down since the arrival of Jimmy Butler. Embiid contributes some of his recent struggles to adjusting to Butler, but Embiid takes responsibility for his current shooting woes.

“It’s hard,” Embiid said. “I’m trying to figure it out. My place on the floor. Sometimes I’ve got to space the floor. A lot of times with the way our plays are set up I tend to spend a lot of time on the perimeter. That’s just an adjustment we got to make with the coaches. Figure out how to keep me down low. I don’t know … changing the plays or whatever. 

“I got to do a better job. It’s on me. I haven’t been efficient and got to make sure I work on my game.”

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Breaking down Sixers' trade targets as Dec. 15 arrives

Breaking down Sixers' trade targets as Dec. 15 arrives

Updated: 11:49 a.m.

If you’re a basketball fan, you’ve inevitably seen the date Dec. 15 described as an important one in the NBA.

Why, you might ask? Well, it’s the first day free agents that were signed during this past offseason are able to be traded. It’s a rule the NBA instituted so bad teams flush with cap space couldn’t sign players to big-money deals with the intent of trading them (though has it really stopped them?).

So if you’re wondering why Elton Brand hasn’t made a move while the Sixers’ bench remains super thin, this could be a reason why.

With all that said, let’s look at a few players — minus the just traded Trevor Ariza — the Sixers could target now that it’s Dec. 15.

Jabari Parker

Parker is out of the Bulls’ rotation and carries a $20 million cap hit. So I don’t know why you’d want him here and I also don’t know how you’d make it work. Parker can score but his defense is cripplingly bad. Pass.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

The Sixers have been linked to Caldwell-Pope and we outlined that the other day. Caldwell-Pope would be a big upgrade defensively for the Sixers off the bench. He’s an inconsistent offensive player, but he’s far from inept on that end. His $12 million hit could also make a trade tricky.

Wayne Ellington

With the Heat off to a rough start, Ellington could be the type of player that draws interest from competing teams. The Wynnewood native gives you an elite shooter off the bench with plenty of NBA experience. He also has a workable $6 million hit.

Vince Carter

The Hawks signed Carter to mentor their incredibly young team, so they may not be looking to move him, but it’s worth a phone call. The days of "Vinsanity" are over, but the 41-year-old still brings a little something and makes the veteran minimum. He’s a league average three-point shooter, has great instincts and still has some hops. 

Rudy Gay

If you — for some reason — have interest in Parker, Gay is the more attractive version of a similar player. He’s a combo forward that can score but isn’t the greatest defender. Gregg Popovich wanted him back on the Spurs this season, so you know he at least tries to defend. He also has half the cap hit of Parker. The Spurs would have to have their first losing season in over two decades to consider moving pieces, but things aren’t looking great in San Antonio. 

Channing Frye

This name won’t excite you, but Frye is a solid veteran that can shoot the basketball and doesn’t need a big role. Frye probably wouldn’t be a regular part of the rotation, but he’s a pro’s pro and will keep himself ready when the opportunity arises. He also makes the veteran minimum.

Jeff Green

We’ve discussed Green before. He’s just an OK player, though he’d be an upgrade over what the Sixers currently have off the bench. He’s another guy that makes the minimum and wouldn’t cost you much in a trade.

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There's not one easy answer for Sixers' defensive problems

There's not one easy answer for Sixers' defensive problems

There are a few obvious explanations for the Sixers’ 113-101 loss Friday night to the Pacers (see observations)

Joel Embiid didn’t get enough support on a night in which he posted 40 points and a career-high 21 rebounds; the bench continues to look awfully thin for a team with championship aspirations; it would have been nice to have Jimmy Butler (he missed his second straight game with a strained groin) against a good, physical Pacers team that’s on a six-game winning streak and just surpassed the Sixers in the standings.

The Sixers’ defensive issues, though, defy a simple explanation.

After giving up 70 points in the second half of Wednesday’s loss to the Nets and 64 after halftime to Indiana, just about everyone you asked had a different answer.

While head coach Brett Brown framed the defensive problems as a team concern, he did single out two young players.

“Going down to the list, it’s not like you’re going to have a wide variety to choose from,” Brown said. “It’s not so much that, it’s trying to get those guys to expedite their birth certificates. They sure felt all of [the Pacers'] physicality, and I thought Furkan [Korkmaz] and Landry [Shamet] struggled defensively tonight.” 

Korkmaz and Shamet just don’t have the physical tools to be good NBA defenders at this stage. The Pacers identified Bogdan Bogdanovic’s advantage over the 21-year-old Korkmaz. Bogdanovic powered through Korkmaz for a couple early baskets and torched him on several occasions during a third-quarter run by Indiana.

JJ Redick had a different explanation.

“I’ll have to look at the tape on that one,” Redick said. “I think the biggest thing that we didn’t do tonight and didn’t do well against Brooklyn was just being aware of the hot guys — the hot guys being Bogdanovic, Allen Crabbe and Joe Harris, and allowing those guys to get catch-and-shoot threes. I thought we played our pick-and-roll defense tonight, and you’re going to give some stuff up against that.”

Like Redick, Embiid identified pick-and-roll defense as a concern. 

“Pick-and-roll, we gotta adjust a lot,” he said. “Like I’ve said in the past, it’s hard because coaches want us bigs to stay back and you got guys that just go and pull up. And when you come up, they get lobs or easy baskets. That’s what Indiana runs a lot — they run a lot of pick-and-rolls and they took advantage of it.”

We’ve already broken down the Sixers’ woes with pick-and-roll defense (see film review). As Embiid said, the Sixers prefer to play “drop” coverage, which leaves them vulnerable against players capable of knocking down pull up jumpers or attacking the soft spot in the defense.

At his locker before the game, Amir Johnson put aside the technical talk. Johnson, who did not play against the Pacers, has been on the fringe of the rotation.

I feel like we just gotta guard. [We've] been having trouble with 1-on-1 defense. I feel like it has to be a team effort. When we make a mistake, I feel like we gotta show anger and be pissed, like, ‘OK, I’m not going to let this motherf---er score on me again,’ excuse my language. But that’s how I think on defense, I know. I think that’s what we gotta bring. I think overall we’re 12th in defensive rating. I feel like if we get two or three stops, we can be top-10 or top-five or whatever. We just gotta guard and kinda feel painful when those guards coming off are scoring layups … just guard our man.

Every explanation that the Sixers provided for their defensive woes is plausible. Personnel; not adjusting fast enough when an opposing player is hot; pick-and-roll scheme; intensity and pride — all those things likely play a role.

Butler’s presence alleviates some of those issues, but one player doesn’t solve a problem that complex. 

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