The Sixers’ three-game losing streak from Dec. 15 to Dec. 20 led players to remark the team was “playing scared,” and to comment on “blown coverages” and unacceptable effort.
Their current three-game skid, with a 115-97 loss Tuesday in Indiana the latest defeat, escalated things. Joel Embiid missed the game because of left knee soreness.
"I don’t think that there’s enough accountability in the locker room right now, honestly,” Josh Richardson told reporters in Indiana. “I think we got some new guys who don’t want to step on toes — including myself. I feel like we just kind of go play and don’t compete as much. There have been games where we have and it’s been great, but when it’s not going good we got to hold each other accountable, so I think that’s where a lot of our problems start.”
Richardson wasn’t the only player to touch on that particular issue following a game in which the Sixers wilted in the second quarter. They were outscored 38-16 in the period, looking lifeless without Embiid.
“We just need to come together, really sit down and talk about it — defense and the offense,” Ben Simmons said. “There are times we look like a championship team and there are nights like this where we don’t even look like we should be here. We gotta take ownership of that, look in the mirror and say what we want out of this team.”
Like Simmons, Richardson believes blunt discussions are necessary.
“A couple of us talked about it so I know who said it, but going forward we got to talk to some people about it and we got to do it,” he said. “We talk about playing hard every day, we break the huddle down with 'chip' every day, and we got a long way to go before we actually start competing for that. I just think our locker room has some growing to do.”
The Sixers now sit at 23-13, sixth in the Eastern Conference and just behind the 22-12 Pacers. In September, head coach Brett Brown had said, “I want the No. 1 seed.” Though the Sixers beat the NBA-best Bucks in an impressive Christmas performance, they trail Milwaukee by 7.5 games.
Before that Christmas showcase, general manager Elton Brand kept returning to the word “encouraged” when discussing the state of his team.
Tuesday, Brown leaned on “disappointing.”
“To lose two games and to come in here and not have that same maniacal competitiveness and try to end the year with a competitive performance that you wish would translate to a win is very disappointing,” he said.
The team’s issues don’t appear to be hopelessly beyond repair, at least from outside of the locker room. They’ve beaten elite opponents, showed glimpses of defensive potential and talked openly about being constructed with the playoffs in mind.
But, judging by what they had to say Tuesday, it sounds like they collectively see fundamental issues that warrant serious concern and reflection. Tobias Harris didn’t think the right approach would be to brush the loss off, attribute it to Embiid’s absence, and move on to Friday night’s game against the Houston Rockets.
In all honesty, I think what we have to do is look one another in the eye, look ourselves in the mirror and kind of evaluate and take ownership on our own individual play,” Harris said. “And then figure out where individually we can be better, 1-on-1, as a man, and come to the table to try to mesh that together as a team. It’s easy to say, ‘Hey, we didn’t play defense’ or 'We didn’t get out in transition.’ It’s easy to say that but it’s hard to say, ‘I didn’t bring enough energy for the group tonight. I need to do a better job — me, myself, personally — when we’re in these type of ruts, picking us up and doing the utmost to figure out how we can get up out of a deep run like they had today.’
“… A loss like today — it’s easy to just say, oh, we need to switch it up. Switch up to what? What we did three games ago when we beat the Bucks? This is the league. One game after another, obviously we need to build consistency — that’s the big thing. But I think as an individual, 1-on-1, man to man, we need to look ourselves in the eye and come to the table on what we can individually do better, and bring that as a collective group.
Al Horford, who’s in the midst of a poor stretch and shot 2 of 12 Tuesday, had similar sentiments to Richardson, Simmons and Harris when asked what the Sixers need to fix.
“Just more of a sense of urgency, starting on the defensive end,” he said. “We need to be better. We’ve been talking — Coach has told us the things that we need to do and we’re still making a lot of those mistakes. A lot of these things are on us and we need to be better.”
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