The Philadelphia 76ers aren’t quite there yet, and that’s okay.
After beginning the season 5-0, the Philadelphia 76ers have lost three straight games. Context aside, a three-game skid brings with it a mix of concern, angst, and disappointment. The Sixers are expected to contend for a title. It has been a harsh return to reality after the blazing start.
With that in mind, context is important. The Sixers are still expected to contend for a title, and no, Brett Brown is not on the hot seat. It’s early in the season, and it’s clear Philadelphia needs to build chemistry. That’s not a new concept, especially for a team with so many new pieces.
This is the first season in which Brett Brown entered the campaign with a contender. Last season, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris were added mid-season. It’s hard to accommodate two stars mid-season, with a system anchored in place and two high-usage stars already on the roster.
Over the summer, Butler left, Harris re-signed, and Al Horford and Josh Richardson joined. The Sixers also lost J.J. Redick, who was Brown’s favorite offensive fodder on broken plays and in halfcourt sets. A lot changed.
It helped to have training camp to install sets, figure out a defense, and build chemistry. The 5-0 start made that obvious — the Sixers are starting in a better spot than the 2018-19 regular season. With that said, training camp often doesn’t iron out every problem. The Sixers have more to figure out.
A uniquely built roster has left Philadelphia without a ton of halfcourt playmaking and shot creation. That’s fine — the Sixers can win on size, versatility, and physicality — but the offense gets clunky at times as a result. Al Horford and Tobias Harris still need to find comfort zones next to Embiid. How Ben Simmons fits into the mix seems to be a perpetual question.
The Sixers are still running Richardson at point guard in heavy doses — an experiment that, in the kindest possible terms, was not celebrated in Miami last season. Brown is still mixing and matching parts. Matisse Thybulle has cooled off. Raul Neto is just breaking into the rotation. Things are still shifting, changing.
To panic after eight games, regardless of team situation, is ill-advised. The Sixers’ three losses include games in which Embiid was suspended, or Simmons was either hurt early or out entirely. The Sixers still haven’t lost with the starting five in tact for 48 minutes.
It’s also worth mentioning where the three-game skid took place — a west coast road trip. The Sixers’ most recent loss — a 98-97 nail-biter in Denver — featured a blown 21-point lead. The loss was sealed by a blown call, to boot. The Sixers should have won.
In an eight-game sample, with health problems, a suspension, and multiple new pieces, the success levels are bound to vary. The Sixers are still a good team — a really good team, in fact. Even I, a basketball cynic, would hang on to your Sixers-Clippers Finals predictions.
The Sixers need to build chemistry and continuity. Horford needs to spend more time at power forward, figuring out his optimal spots on the floor. Harris needs to launch more 3s, and get comfortable as Philadelphia’s primary bomber. Richardson was the No. 1 option in Miami. His new role is a drastic shift.
With Embiid as an anchor, Simmons expected back soon, and a world-class defense in place, the Sixers will be just fine. Don’t panic. A home contest with Charlotte Sunday evening is a prime opportunity to get back on track.