The best part of the Sixers’ recently concluded road trip was Shake Milton. There are other contenders, but the 23-year-old who tied an NBA record with 13 consecutive made threes, averaged 21.3 points and 4.3 assists over the Sixers’ four West Coast games and had opposing fans searching for information on the former second-round selection with the composed game and 7-foot wingspan seems like a sensible pick.
The worst part of the trip was Saturday night’s 118-114 loss to a Warriors team without Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Golden State shot 55 percent from the floor and scored 36 fourth-quarter points to win its 15th game of the season.
“There are some good things that came out of [the road trip],” Brett Brown told reporters. “Losing tonight, you can’t camouflage the disappointment.”
It doesn’t make Saturday’s loss excusable, but the absences of Joel Embiid (left shoulder sprain), Ben Simmons (nerve impingement in lower back) and Josh Richardson (concussion protocol) were highly impactful. Richardson exited in the first quarter of the Sixers’ defeat last Sunday to the Clippers, while Embiid and Simmons missed the entirety of the trip.
The Sixers had a 123.6 defensive rating on the West Coast, worst in the NBA during that span. They allowed Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell to all score at least 24 points, conceded 37 to Anthony Davis and gave up a combined 47 to rookie Eric Paschall and Damion Lee.
Having Simmons, Embiid and Richardson would have helped patch up perimeter lapses, protect the paint, defend opposing stars and lessen the burden on weaker defenders. Even having one of the three would have made a major difference.
“That’s obvious, but that’s not even close to where I’m going,” Brown said. “Where I’m going is with the group that we have. We needed to play better defense and close out a game on the road, and we didn’t do it. We can point at different things, but to me, that’s the bottom line — trying to keep guys in front of you. We just couldn’t do it, and we need to.”
At 38-26, the Sixers are sixth in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind the Pacers and 2.5 behind the fourth-place Heat. Eleven of their remaining 18 games are at home and they have the third-easiest remaining schedule in the NBA.
None of that matters much when compared to the health of the Sixers' two All-Stars, and none of it is very encouraging after a loss to a team with the league’s worst record.
“I mean, at this point of the season, when you see that there's fewer and fewer games, you have to handle business,” Al Horford said. “And the most frustrating about this one was that we were in control most of the game.
"It's dangerous when you just kind of let a team keep hanging and hanging, and we were never able to quite pull away. We kept on trading baskets with them. It wasn't good enough tonight.”
There are positives to be gleaned from the trip, including Horford’s play in the final two games. After struggling with Davis and Harrell and shooting 6 of 19 overall in Los Angeles, he was very good in Sacramento and scored 22 points against Golden State, his most since Nov. 4.
As a team, the Sixers also had success spreading the floor and embracing the three-point shot, taking 38.5 threes per game and hitting 43.5 percent. When Embiid returns — he’s set to be re-evaluated Monday, a team source told NBC Sports Philadelphia, and is reportedly hopeful to play Wednesday vs. the Pistons — the offense should change. Still, the outside shooting of Mike Scott, Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks and Milton was a bright spot.
Tobias Harris led the Sixers with 23.8 points per game. He was not pleased with the end product.
"1-3 ... that's pretty bad, in my opinion,” he said. “Not terrible, but it's not what we expect as a group. Most teams want to split the road. We look to go undefeated on the road or three out of four like that, but we haven't been successful on the road. Tonight is a game we'll look back on and say, ‘We should have got that one.’ But we’ve just got to push forward.”
Though he’s never been a player who draws many foul shots, Harris’ lack of free points was especially noticeable on this trip. Over 145 minutes, he attempted eight free throws (making five) and 84 field goals. It’s a weak spot that’s magnified without Simmons and Embiid.
The Sixers now have four straight games at Wells Fargo Center, where they have an NBA-best 28-2 mark.
“I think this is a missed opportunity,” Brown said. “I think that you’re on the cusp of coming back feeling like we deserved — and should feel — like it’s been a pretty good trip.
"This is certainly a dampener, for me, on the trip — I’m sure [it is] for our guys. Nobody’s going to punt it around and not treat it as a way to find ways to admit stuff and get better. But it would’ve been great to win and then go home.”
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