Even with the Sixers’ losing streak at three games and his health below its peak, Tyrese Maxey was in a playful mood after Saturday’s practice in Camden, New Jersey.
Maxey walked over to the table where Danny Green was answering a question, swiped a microphone and joined a small group of reporters. He raised his hand high with a smile.
The 21-year-old wondered, essentially, how Green could improve as a veteran teammate.
“Me becoming a better vet is trying to get guys like you to stay healthy and stay on the court,” Green said. “If I can get you guys healthy and on the court and playing, it’ll help our team a lot. But the more we win, the easier it’ll be for me to be a vet.”
Indeed, the Sixers would like for their starting point guard this season to return as soon as possible. After missing the Sixers’ loss to the Nets on Thursday because of a left quad contusion, Maxey was a limited practice participant, head coach Doc Rivers said.
Maxey thought he sustained the injury contesting a Kyle Lowry layup and taking a knee to the quad during the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s loss to the Heat. He acknowledged it was “painful” and expected to be re-evaluated Sunday ahead of the Sixers’ matchup with the Pelicans.
The Sixers officially listed Maxey as questionable for the New Orleans game, along with Joel Embiid (left ankle soreness). Georges Niang (health and safety protocols) and Furkan Korkmaz (non-COVID illness) remain out, while rookie Jaden Springer is still in concussion protocol after being recalled from the Delaware Blue Coats to the Sixers.
The absences of Maxey, Niang and Korkmaz played a role in the Brooklyn defeat, though the Sixers clearly had sufficient talent to beat a Nets team down nine players, seven of whom were in health and safety protocols. They attempted 11 more three-pointers than Brooklyn but made one fewer, only converting 29.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Green pointed to pace as a reason why good long-range shooting games have been scarce lately.
“If we push the pace, it gives us a chance to get some more open, early looks,” he said. “That’s the one thing that we’re not consistent with. But also getting (Embiid) the ball more, drawing more double teams … and just making decisive decisions, aggressive decisions — catch and shoot, catch and dribble, or catch and pass. I think we’re second-guessing ourselves and thinking a little too much.”
It’s not shocking that the Sixers’ tempo has been slower in light of the ongoing Ben Simmons limbo, although the decrease has been severe. The team entered Saturday night 30th in pace (95.93). Last season, the Sixers ranked 12th at 100.12. The trend is similar in transition frequency, where the Sixers have dropped from fifth to 15th, per Cleaning the Glass.
Simmons finished in either the 99th or 100th percentile the past three seasons in on-off transition frequency, which does not seem like an inaccurate representation of his impact. Regardless of his deficiencies in the half court, he's always been comfortable in the open floor and eager to lead fast breaks.
The Sixers’ lack of speed (and general energy) has been especially evident early in games during this losing streak. Going back to the last seven games, the team has a minus-23.6 net rating and 95.43 pace in first quarters, per NBA.com/Stats. Those figures rank 28th and 27th, respectively.
“I think the main thing for us is we haven’t been able to do it for 48 minutes yet — for a full game,” Shake Milton said. “We’ll come in the game and we’ll get behind or something like that, and then we’ll see a spark happen. When you go back and watch it’s like, man, if we’d been playing like this the whole game we definitely would’ve put ourselves in a position to win the game.
“For us, it’s really just about putting it together for the full 48 and making it happen that way. I think that’s going to give us the best chance to win.”