CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers are on pace to be the most confounding team in NBA history. At home, they’re the best team in the NBA. On the road, they’re worse than the 21-win Charlotte Hornets.
So for what feels like the billionth time, Brett Brown and his players on Saturday were asked about the Jekyll and Hyde performances of this team. For the first time, we may have gotten some concrete answers.
Brown has tried everything from moving shootarounds to having the team come out earlier after halftime and not much has helped. He thinks the answers are as simple as not making shots and not paying attention to detail on defense.
Unfortunately, Brown admitted one of those issues bleeds into the other.
“Most coaches, I don’t know if they’d have the — what’s the word? — to admit it, but there is a human side,” Brown said. “When you’re not scoring, I know it’s harder to get people, teams to play — even the best teams that I’ve been a part of. It’s a human nature thing. And that is the challenge. That is what all coaches talk about. You can’t let your offense influence your defense. Your defense needs to be a mainstay. The defense needs to be not negotiable.”
While coaches need to put players in the right positions to succeed, it does seem to boil down to those two simple things. At home, the Sixers are second in the NBA in defensive rating and 17th in three-point percentage. On the road, those rankings drop to 23rd and 26th, respectively.
At 9-21 away from the Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers start a four-game West Coast swing which kicks off in L.A. Sunday. They’ll do so without Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Simmons will not make the trip as he continues to receive treatment for impingement in his lower back. On Tuesday, a team spokesperson told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Simmons would be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks.
As for Embiid, he will not travel to Los Angeles but could possibly re-join the team later on during the trip, a team spokesperson said. It was revealed on Thursday that Embiid had no structural damage to his left shoulder and that he’d be re-evaluated in a week. Next Thursday, the team will be in Sacramento for a game against the Kings that night.
So a team that’s been bad on the road has to head to the other side of the country to take on two of the Western Conference’s best teams without their two All-Stars.
What’s the message to the team in such difficult circumstances?
“Just the fact that we have an opportunity,” Brown said. “You don’t have Ben, you don’t have Joel. It’s true, we’ve been so poor on the road, that it’s important to maintain a vision of what’s coming up, like what’s the playoffs look like? What do you got to do to get better? And how do you keep the group together and making sure that we have spirit and motivated and all that? That’s my overarching message, even if we weren’t going on the road. If we had a home game, that’s what I would be saying.”
Everyone who spoke Saturday mentioned how the offense will have to be different. Without Embiid and Simmons creating space for themselves and others, there will be a greater emphasis on ball and player movement. Even with Simmons out, Brown still wants his team to run.
It won’t just be on one guy to replace the All-Stars.
“I think it’s just gotta be more motion now,” Richardson said. “It’s gonna be more about committee. We’re going to play off screens, we’re gonna have to help each other more.”
This will be an interesting test for the trio of Richardson, Tobias Harris and Al Horford. It’s fair to say the Sixers haven’t gotten quite what they’d hope from all three players. Whether it’s been fit or dealing with injuries, they’ve had their struggles and the team needs more from them.
Especially with Embiid and Simmons out.
“When your two top dogs aren’t out there, it’s next man up,” Richardson said. “Us three will work by committee to be a solid voice for our team, and just trying to keep all the young guys confident, because that’s what we’re going to need on this road trip.”
That and make shots and play defense. Sounds simple enough, but can the Sixers actually do it?
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