Sixers suffer latest 'deflating' loss to Cavs

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Sixers suffer latest 'deflating' loss to Cavs

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before …

No, really. Stop it. We get it already. Give a standing-eight count or give these Philadelphia 76ers a TKO. They have taken enough.

Unfortunately, there are no reprieves in an NBA season and stopping the epic freefall the Sixers are entwined in these days is much easier said than done. In fact, after the 114-85 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay), game viewing has taken a car-crash type of spin. Everyone slows down to a crawl to see how bad it has gotten from loss to loss.

At least for the Sixers, things move at a snail’s pace on the defensive end. One could say the Sixers’ weak side, perimeter and transition defense was subpar.

That is if it existed.

“A lot of it is a mentality and some of it is execution,” head coach Brett Brown said about his defense. “There is a disposition that all individual great defenders have and any great defensive team has where there is a genuine pride that scores are problems and people that score are a problem and it manifests itself into a strong camaraderie and a cohesive defensive unit. We don’t have that.”

While defense was noticeably absent from the Sixers’ play on Tuesday night, it was the least of their problems. The team had a tough time getting shots to drop and an equally difficult time limiting turnovers. In this one, Evan Turner shot 3 for 14 while rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams turned it over seven times.

At least they were the guys getting the ball. Spencer Hawes, the Sixers’ lone seven-footer and best three-point shooter, squeezed off just six shots in 29 minutes in the loss. There were times when Hawes was open, but mostly he faced constant defensive pressure when he ventured out of the paint.

Only Thad Young seemed to get after it when the Sixers found themselves down by 21 points at halftime. By that point the team’s psyche was damaged enough and that has become an issue for the team.

Perhaps even an issue to worry over.

“The way we’ve been losing, it gets deflating,” said Young, who tied for the Sixers team lead with 15 points and nine rebounds. “As a team we’re trying to keep ourselves together and figure it out.”

And why wouldn’t these losses be deflating for the Sixers? Tuesday’s was the team’s ninth loss in a row and the eighth loss in a row at home. The Sixers have yet to win a game in February and with just three more chances left this month and games against Milwaukee and Orlando looming, the pressure is on.

Only Milwaukee has a worse record than the Sixers and Orlando isn’t that far ahead.

Deflating? Given that the Sixers have failed to break 90 points in three of the last four games and are shooting less than 40 percent in those games, yes it’s deflating. The same goes for an average margin of defeat of 39 points in those three losses.

During the losing streak, the Sixers have lost by double digits six times, by 20-plus four times and by 40-plus twice.

Yeah, there’s losing and then there is losing.

“I think there were some effort problems, no doubt. You can’t hide from that,” Brown said. “When you’re losing games and you’re at this stage of the year, there is a beat-down affect that we’re trying to avoid.

“I want these guys feeling good about themselves. I want them to find a way to help themselves and I want to help them help themselves. When you don’t feel great about yourself you see a bunch of problems that are consequential. My job going forward is to help them get better and be with them to demand some things and to expect some things, but to make sure we coach them.”

Still, one has to wonder if the Sixers have reached rock bottom. At 15-40, it’s difficult to judge given that the team was expected to be fresh for Tuesday night’s game coming off the All-Star break. Instead, it was more of the same.

To his credit, Brown remains undeterred. He knew it was going to be a tough year when he signed on with the Sixers, especially after more than a decade with the San Antonio Spurs where he was on the bench for a team that won four titles and took a fifth to the seventh game.

Yes, Brown is sure he knows what it takes to make a winner and it all begins on the defensive end of the court.

That’s where the Sixers have allowed a league-worst 111 points per game.

“At the end of the day, this program will be built on defense,” Brown said.

The Sixers are in the practice gym until Friday when they host the Dallas Mavericks. Following that one, the Sixers host the Bucks in the Ping-Pong Ball Bowl as the two worst teams in the league aim to get in position for June’s NBA draft.

Sixers beat Pelicans without Joel Embiid leading the way

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Sixers beat Pelicans without Joel Embiid leading the way

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NEW ORLEANS -- Joel Embiid shot just 5 for 15 from the field and the Sixers … wait … the Sixers won. 

Surprising? Actually, that’s just how the Sixers envision finding success.

It’s not about Embiid having a relatively quiet night on offense with 14 points, especially going 0 for 5 from three. It’s about other players getting involved and taking the burden off the rookie. Embiid has proved he can do a lot of things, but carrying a team each night in his first season isn’t what the Sixers have in mind. 

“I think that’s when we’re at our best,” Nik Stauskas said after the Sixers beat the Pelicans 99-88 (see Instant Replay). “Obviously there are a few guys in the NBA like a LeBron (James), KD (Kevin Durant) or Steph (Curry) that can single-handedly win a game throughout the entire season. But most of the teams are going to rely on bench players to step up and make shots and make plays. I think that’s when we’re most effective.”

Embiid entered Thursday night averaging 24.3 points and shooting 48.9 percent in Sixers wins (three games played). His 14 points against the Pelicans were his fewest in a victory this season. He also grabbed seven boards with four blocks and three steals. Embiid was a game-high plus-27, which Brett Brown called "massive."

Instead of being powered offensively by their centerpiece, the Sixers received solid efforts from the starters and reserves. Ersan Ilyasova scored 23 points (along with eight rebounds) for the second straight game. Sergio Rodriguez chipped in 16 points and eight assists. Off the bench,  Stauskas hit three treys en route to 14 points while Dario Saric scored 10 points with five rebounds as the team snapped an overall eight-game losing skid and a 23-game road losing streak. 

Embiid’s teammates attribute their success to the fact he is such a focal point of the opponents’ defense. In comparison to the beginning of the season when Embiid was getting stifled by double-teams, he has been learning how to pass out of them. Embiid expects to see two defenders every game and has been making adjustments to create opportunities for others to shoot rather than committing turnovers. 

“We’re not standing around a lot and just focusing on what Jo can do,” Robert Covington said. “Jo is making great moves to find guys that are open. He’s willing to pass. We’re starting to build the chemistry that everyone’s been looking for.”

Ilyasova has noticed a change in the flow of the offense and has capitalized on defensive mismatches when opponents swarm Embiid. 

“We just share the ball well,” Ilyasova said. “I find myself open. Obviously Joel does a great job of as far as when there is a double-team, just kicking out. When I see the open look, I try to knock that shot down.” 

This style of play is mutually beneficial for both Embiid and his teammates. Just because Embiid is passing out doesn't mean he's not getting his looks. Oftentimes, dishing out of a double-team allows him to get a better look on the next touch. 

“It’s a team effort," Covington said. "We’re doing so much as a unit that we’re not just focusing on just get Jo the ball and let him do his thing. He’s getting the ball, he’s surveying the floor and then he’s making his moves. He’s reading the defense really well. He’s doing a lot of [kicking out]. Then we find him a lot of re-posts and finding the open shot and making it easy for him to find the easy bucket.” 

Embiid is capable of scoring 20-plus in spite of his 28-minute restriction. The Sixers are making strides, though, by finding ways to win when he isn’t the running up the scoreboard. 

“I think there’s no doubt Jo is our best player and our offense is going to revolve around him most of the time,” Stauskas said. “But we’re playing our best when he’s posting up and kicking out to guys and they’re hitting threes or we’re taking pressure off him by making plays and the defense can’t just be solely focused on him. In a game like tonight, that’s kind of what you saw.”

Instant Replay: Sixers 99, Pelicans 88

Instant Replay: Sixers 99, Pelicans 88

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NEW ORLEANS — The Sixers avoided setting a franchise mark of consecutive road losses with a 99-88 win over the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Prior to Thursday’s victory, the Sixers had lost 23 straight away from Philadelphia. Their last road win was Jan. 20, 2016, against the Magic. They also had dropped 23 consecutive games on the road from March 29-Dec. 23, 2015. 

The Sixers held Anthony Davis, the NBA’s leading scorer, to 26 points, below his season average of 31.6. They were led by Ersan Ilyasova, who dropped 23 points again after scoring 23 in the Sixers’ last game against the Grizzlies. 

Third-quarter transformation
The Sixers trailed the Pelicans, 57-52, at halftime and struck back defensively in the third. They held the Pelicans to 5 for 25 shooting from the field and 2 for 12 from three in the quarter. The Sixers outscored the Pelicans, 19-12, in the quarter to regain the lead. 

Inside the box score
• Davis recorded a 26-point, 11-rebound double-double. He shot 8 for 21 from the field, 0 for 2 from three and 10 for 12 from the line. 

• Ilyasova scored 23 points (9 for 16 from the field, 2 for 6 from three, 3 for 4 from the line) to go with eight rebounds and four assists.

• Joel Embiid contributed 14 points (5 for 15 from the field, 0 for 5 from three, 4 for 5 from the line), seven rebounds, two assists, four blocks and three steals in 27 minutes.

• Sergio Rodriguez gave a solid 16 points (6 for 13 from the field, 4 for 8 from three) and eight dimes.

• Nik Stauskas and Dario Saric combined for 27 points off the bench.

• St. Joe’s alum Langston Galloway dropped 19 points (8 for 16 from the field, 3 for 6 from long range) off the Pelicans’ bench.

Trusting the process in New Orleans
It follows Embiid on the road. Fans chanted “trust the process” while he was at the free throw line. The volume was more quiet than at the Wells Fargo Center, but the effort was there nonetheless. 

Injury updates
The Sixers were without Jahlil Okafor, who remained in Philadelphia battling gastroenteritis. Jerryd Bayless also missed the trip because of left wrist soreness. Former Sixer Jrue Holiday sat out with turf toe. 

Up next
The Sixers will return home to Philadelphia to get in some practice before heading back on the road. They will play the Pistons in Detroit on Sunday.