LONDON – It’s obvious the 76ers aren’t as good as the hype.
That’s not a knock on the team — just an observation. The must-see darlings of the NBA have a lot to improve on.
Thursday’s 114-103 loss in London to the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics was most recent reminder that the Sixers (19-20) aren’t among the league’s elite teams. There’s a good chance that Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day matchup against the Toronto Raptors at Wells Fargo Center will be another reminder.
The Raptors headed into Saturday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors with the conference’s second-best record, at 29-11. They’ve defeated the Sixers this season by margins of 34, 5, and 16 points.
The five-point setback hurt the most, considering they blew a 22-point, third-quarter lead at home.
Yet, the Sixers’ goal was to make the playoffs. Bryan Colangelo, the team’s president of basketball operations, points out that they are legitimate playoff contenders.
“How many games out of the fourth seed are we right now?” Colangelo said Wednesday. “Forget the eighth seed. How many games out of the fourth seed are we? So, we’ve got to get more consistent.”
The Sixers, who have played only 39 games, are four games behind the fourth-seeded Miami Heat. The Heat (24-17) are at the midway point of the season with 41 games played. The Sixers have the conference’s ninth-best record. The conference’s top eight teams reach the playoffs.
But, as Colangelo pointed out, the Sixers are consistently inconsistent — except for losing big leads and turning the ball over.
As they did against the Raptors on Dec. 21, the Sixers had a commanding 22-point lead against the Celtics (34-10). In all, the Sixers have lost seven games in which they led by 11 points or more.
They also rank last in the league in turnovers with 17.9 per game.
“What do we need right now, short of making a significant trade? I think it’s just consistency health-wise, consistency preparation-wise, consistency performance-wise,” Colangelo said. “And, again, it’s early. Less than half the season has been played. There’s been some highs. There’s been some lows thus far.”
Losing substantial leads in numerous games comes with having a young team, he said. Young players need to develop individually and as a group to learn what it takes to win on daily basis.
“One piece that we haven’t even seen yet is what Markelle Fultz might add,” he said. “You might even argue that his inclusion or his acclimation to the team might be something that further increases the ability to compete.
“Once again, young players take time.”
It would be unrealistic to think that Fultz will provide an immediate boost. The first-overall pick in June’s draft has missed 35 games due to a shoulder injury, rehabilitation, and trying to improve his shot.
Fultz needs to play this season to mesh with teammates in game action. The Sixers are anxious to see how the guard’s game translates in the NBA.
“We will see how that ultimately affects us going forward,” Colangelo said.
But the Sixers need more consistency across the board. Three prime areas are bench scoring, three-point shooting, and Joel Embiid’s availability. The franchise center still hasn’t been cleared to play in back-to-back games because of his surgically repaired left knee. He has also missed games with back tightness and has been dealing with a sprained right hand,
Embiid had said he would be scheduled play on consecutive nights this month or in February.
Colangelo, however, said there’s no timeline for Embiid.
“But we are trending in a positive way there,” he said. “Again, consistency. Young teams struggle with consistency.”
But what about adding consistency to their roster via a trade prior to the Feb. 8 deadline? That could also be a way to get insurance in case Embiid remains hampered and Fultz struggles when he returns.
As much as the Sixers talk about development, missing the playoffs in a weak conference would be a letdown.
“I would never say never, because we are always looking to improve our basketball team,” Colangelo said. “But, I think that’s the same answer you’ll get from any general manager at this stage in the season.”
A lot could happen leading up to the deadline. For now, the Sixers will only say they have a young, developing team.
“We’re very consistent with our patient approach to developing the core players that we have,” Colangelo said, “and putting them in the best possible environment to succeed.”
But, for the time being, their lack of consistency is a reason they haven’t always lived up to the hype.