In the context of an 82-game season, a three-game losing streak does not sound serious.
But the postgame comments offered after the Sixers’ 117-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night bordered on grave, especially for a 20-10 team.
Nobody was naming names, but there was plenty of frank assessment and obvious frustration.
“I just don’t think the ball was moving enough,” Josh Richardson said of the team’s struggles vs. a zone defense for a second consecutive game. “The ball was sticking. I think it’s hard to beat a zone by ourselves. I think we’ve got good intentions, but we’ve just gotta play a little more for each other, I think, offensively and defensively.”
Al Horford thought the Sixers got better looks vs. Dallas’ zone than Miami’s, but he also identified a lack of cohesiveness.
“I just think defensively, there's too many blown coverages, the five of us not being connected enough every time,” he said. “Sometimes it was three guys in the right place or two guys — it just felt very isolated out there.
“I don't think that offensively was the problem, even though we missed some shots. I just think defensively, you're giving up 117 points, that's just way too many points. That's a good team over there, but they don't even have Luka [Doncic]. Definitely a cause for concern for our group.”
Joel Embiid, after scoring a game-high 33 points and grabbing 17 rebounds, thought his teammates turned down too many open shots. He received little offensive support, with Richardson taking just four shots in the first three quarters, Horford scoring nine points in 24 minutes and Tobias Harris posting a season-low seven points on 3 for 11 shooting.
Ben Simmons was ineffective in the “dunker spot” for the Sixers, recording 12 points, eight assists and five turnovers. Those numbers would be a bit better if Simmons had finished a couple of easy looks around the rim, but he was again reduced to a complementary role on offense and again did not attempt a field goal outside the paint.
“I mean, we lost by a large amount so I wouldn’t necessarily say that we were better,” Embiid said. “We didn’t get them out of it. They kept playing it the whole game, Miami did the same thing. If a team is going to play like that the whole game, that means you’re not good enough or you’re not doing good. So, we’ve just gotta adjust. I feel like sometimes we just overcomplicate things. And we had a turnover problem in the first half.”
What does Embiid mean by “overcomplicate?”
“I don’t know, I feel like especially tonight, we were playing scared,” he said. “Basketball is easy — just shoot it, pass it, move it. If you don’t got a shot, just pass it. But tonight, like I said, we didn’t make shots. And defensively, we were pretty bad.”
Basketball does not look easy at the present moment for the Sixers. In Brett Brown’s mind, much of that stems from their troubles against zone.
I think that ... to be put on our back heels against the zone has crept into our defense, our psyche, our spirit — and I can't stand it. This is not who we are. It's not who we are. As we've discussed as a team, there's enough of a body of work — you just respect the heck out of the locker room. I love coaching these guys because I respect them.
“And I feel like our competitive spirit has taken a dent because of our inability to score. And I think that anytime you get into a mood swing that affects your defense because your offense is doing something, it needs to be addressed. And when you say like, 'Where has this gone south?' I think I'm close with a lot of that assessment.
No player placed any direct blame on Brown or the Sixers’ coaching staff. Embiid did say he preferred being positioned in the high post, an in-game adjustment the Sixers made vs. Miami and stuck with Friday. If one was inclined to read between the lines, he was perhaps intimating that he should have been there all along. Embiid's stance on the team’s defensive breakdowns, though, was clear. The Sixers conceded 19 first-quarter points to Tim Hardaway Jr. and allowed Dallas to shoot 51.8 percent from the floor and 43.4 percent from three-point range.
“We’re not following the game plan,” he said. “Like tonight, let’s say Tim Hardaway, we had him as a hot guy. We’ve just gotta do a better job of following the game plan. At the end of the day, I feel like it’s not on the coaches. We’ve gotta play with energy. [Hardaway] obviously made seven threes. Going into a game, if you know a guy is a shooter, you should not give him any space. So we’ve gotta do a better job of respecting what we’re supposed to do and just be aggressive.”
So, according to the Sixers, they didn’t do the following: take open shots, make open shots, move the ball, play as a collective and follow the defensive game plan.
With the Wizards up next Saturday night (7 p.m./NBCSP), how do they address all of that, turn things around and start winning games again?
Richardson took on that question by hitting on yet another problem.
“I think it just starts with playing harder,” he said. “Our effort hasn’t been there the last couple days and I think that’s a good problem to have to fix — there could be a lot worse things. I think if it starts there, then we’ll be working with something at that point.”
From his perspective, the Sixers can’t let that particular concern linger.
“It’s just an issue we’ve just gotta address internally,” he said. “I think we’ve just gotta sit down and talk about it. I think we’ll figure it out, hopefully.”
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