The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey had the unfortunate experience of having to watch, in person, the Sixers get hammered by the Pacers on New Year’s Eve. It was an ugly and lethargic performance without Joel Embiid, a third straight loss after a fantastic, confidence-building, high-energy win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas Day.
This is the third time this season they’ve lost three games in a row, which only happened once last year, in April, when they were pretty much married to the three seed. That Sixers squad was resilient in the fact that they often responded well from losses and found a way to stack wins through the middle portion of the season, and while they also started 23-13, they went on a 7-2 run to get themselves unstuck in January. We’ll see if this squad can replicate that.
Keith’s reward for watching Tuesday’s slop live was pulling some great quotes from the locker room, which we will analyze here.
“I don’t think there there’s enough accountability in our locker room right now, honestly,” he said. “I think that we got some new guys, who don’t want to step on toes, including myself. I feel like we kind of go play and don’t compete as much.”
“There’s been games that we have [competed], and it’s been great,” he said. “But when it’s not going good, we got to hold each other accountable. I think that’s where a lot of our problems start.”
“Going forward, we got to talk to some people about it, and we got to do it,” Richardson said. “We talk about playing hard every day. We talk about, you know we break the huddle down with chip every day, and we got a long way to go before we actually start competing for that.
“I think our locker room has some growing to do.”
Tons of red flags there. You never want to hear about new guys not wanting to cross a line, or “step on toes,” as Richardson puts it. It suggests that there’s a lack of existing leadership coming from the guys who have been here for a while now, and there are only two of them – Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
He’s right when he talks about playing vs. “competing.” Simmons has spoken frequently this year of guys being focused and “locked in” during their best performances, and while the Sixers have knocked off every other team in the top-six of the Eastern Conference, they struggle to get up for games against lesser squads, especially on the road. The good thing is that it’s certainly not a talent issue; it’s a problem getting themselves motivated to play against crap teams, which manifests itself as holding down the six seed as of January 2nd.
“In all honesty, I think what we have to do is look one another in the eye and look ourselves in the mirror, and kind of evaluate it and take ownership on our own individual play,” Harris said. “Then figure out what individually we can do better one on one as man, and come to the table and try to mesh that together.”
‘Our own individual play’
That jumps out at me here. Making it an individual thing seems to be a shot at… somebody? Not sure who, but he’s suggesting here that everybody has to improve their game and their level of contribution, then they can regroup and put the final product together.
What intrigues me is that the ceiling and the floor of this team seem to be incredibly high and incredibly low. We’ve seen this squad blow the doors off Miami and Milwaukee at home, then struggle against Orlando and Washington on the road. There’s a high level of variance from game to game.
“We have to be more conscious of doing the things that coach wants us to do, defensively,” he said. “We have to be better. There’s just a lot of breakdowns.
“If we continue to stay the course, I think we will be fine. I think we will be able to break through it.”
So they’re getting the message from Brett Brown, they’re just not executing it. Or they don’t like the scheme or the concepts and are not responding to what the coach is asking them to do. Could mean one or both of those things.
It’s always hard to qualify the coach’s role in all of this. How much of the lack of effort and compete level is because they aren’t completely buying in to Brown’s system? Is that the problem? Or do they just not have the juice to bring it for 82 games and do the ‘extra’ that it takes to claim the #1 seed? Is Brown actually Mark Jackson? Maybe another coach gives them a kick in the ass and gets them over the hump, or maybe these guys just don’t want it badly enough.
Those are three quotes from three new players, if you want to call Tobias Harris “new.” They’re all older than Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, who are the franchise cornerstones, which makes for an interesting locker room dynamic. Typically a locker room leader is an established veteran who has been around for a while, but in the Sixers’ case, the superstars are only 23 and 25 years old. This isn’t like a 31 year old Jason Kelce or 29 year old Nick Foles leading the Eagles locker room. It’s a smaller group of guys who haven’t been together very long at all. That makes for a quirky arrangement.
Sixers practice at 1:15 p.m. today so we’ll see what Brett Brown and others have to say about their ugly week.