The good news about the Sixers’ road trip is that it’s over.
The team lost to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night at Fiserv Forum, 112-101, and dropped all four games on the trip.
The defeat puts the Sixers at 31-21, with the Memphis Grizzlies up next on Friday night at Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./NBCSP).
Compared to their last two games, this was an improved effort. Granted, that was a low bar to clear after losses by 31 points Monday to the Heat and 21 points Saturday to the Celtics.
Here are observations on the loss:
Embiid talked Wednesday about feeling he’s had to “sacrifice a lot.” He said the Sixers don’t yet have an offensive identity and that, for him personally, it’s “hard to find that balance.”
That struggle was evident in the first half, when he shot 1 for 10. Some of those looks were contested, while some were open. He didn’t get the benefit of the doubt on a few possible foul calls, too. The bottom line, though, is Embiid had a poor half and has not been anywhere near his best since returning from a torn ligament in his left ring finger on Jan. 28. He hasn’t looked remotely comfortable, physically or otherwise, which is concerning.
Regardless of how one feels about the Sixers’ ideal offensive approach, it’s clear Embiid is a very important player. He entered Thursday’s game as the most efficient post-up player in the league (minimum two post-ups per game) and by the far the NBA’s leader in post-up volume.
In the second half, Embiid kept firing on the open jumpers the Bucks were presenting him. He was 5 of 16 after halftime.
This team needs Embiid to be engaged, healthy and at or near his peak if they’re going to solve their road woes.
A nearly impossible challenge
The Sixers encouraged Giannis Antetokounmpo to shoot jumpers, far from a novel approach against the reigning MVP. Antetokounmpo air balled two first-quarter threes but was very successful inside.
He’s basically impossible to stop when he gets forward momentum and there’s not a strong defender positioned in the paint, waiting to corral his drive.
After holding Antetokounmpo on Christmas to a season-worst 8 of 27 shooting performance, Embiid, Al Horford and the Sixers allowed him to score 36 points (13 of 25 shooting) and grab 20 rebounds. The "Greek Freak" nickname is appropriate.
What changes with the bench?
Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III, acquired from the Warriors in a trade Thursday, will presumably slot into the Sixers’ rotation. (Neither player was available to play against the Bucks, with the trade becoming official about an hour before tip-off.)
One notable shift was that Shake Milton both started and served as the backup point guard. Josh Richardson missed his sixth straight game with a left hamstring strain, but a team spokesperson said Wednesday that he’s nearing a return.
Milton was solid in the time Raul Neto had recently been taking, totaling eight points, four rebounds and three assists.
Furkan Korkmaz had 12 points (4 of 12 shooting) and continued to run the two-man actions with Embiid that were originally a trademark of JJ Redick. Robinson, a 40 percent three-point shooter this season, is someone who might be well suited for that package of plays.
Matisse Thybulle posted five points, two steals and two blocks in 24 minutes.
All three will be affected in one way or the other by the presence of Burks and Robinson.
Marial Shayok, one of the Sixers’ two-way players, made his NBA debut. The 24-year-old entered in the second quarter, got an open look from the left wing and sunk a three on his first NBA shot.
He played seven minutes and missed two other three-point attempts.
It was surprising to see Brett Brown use Shayok against the league’s top team, preferring one of the top scorers in the G League over Zhaire Smith or Neto.
With how poorly the Sixers had played in their past three games, perhaps he figured it couldn’t hurt to give Shayok an opportunity, especially on a night when the team was shorthanded.
As a two-way player, Shayok can spend a maximum of 45 days with the Sixers and is not eligible for the NBA playoffs.
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