Every game is important, and the main focus of the Sixers is on winning nightly so they can secure a spot in the playoffs and move as high as they can in the Eastern Conference standings.
“I try not to look at the standings just because I know I have to take every game day by-day-or however it comes,” Ben Simmons said.
For the most part, his teammates echoed the same sentiment. They are trying not to get ahead of themselves.
Behind the scenes, though, the Sixers’ extensive staff is scouting and preparing for much more.
Every possible playoff matchup has to be intricately analyzed so that, when the time comes, the Sixers will have a neatly packaged plan of attack.
“We’re talking about all of that a week ago,” Brett Brown said Tuesday night. “It’s layered. … We are on top of possible matchups and what those teams represent. The fact that we have played some of those teams recently gives us greater clarity.”
The Sixers are 9-16 against Eastern teams headed for the playoffs. Since Feb. 1, the Sixers have played 10 games against the top eight teams in the East, and they are 4-6 in those games.
They’ll have only two more games this season against the East’s elite: April 6 against the Cavaliers, and the regular-season finale April 11 against the Milwaukee Bucks.
So far, what’s clear from games against the teams they could see in the playoffs is that the Sixers still have work to do.
“We’re up and down. We’re young. We make not-wise decisions at times,” Brown said after the Sixers fell to the currently third-seeded Indiana Pacers, 101-98, Tuesday. “I feel like what we need to walk out of this game with is the recognition that we’re close to being amongst a pretty elite group. We’re just not there yet.”
One of the biggest things holding the Sixers back is turnovers. It’s a problem the Sixers were facing when the season started, and it remains one of their greatest challenges.
“We’ve got to get better with some individuals. I think as a team we have to get better. And some of it, I have to own,” Brown said of the turnovers being a lingering issue.
Simmons and Joel Embiid both rank in the top 10 in the league in turnovers per game. It’s not exactly the league-leading list that a player wants to be on, but some of the league’s best are also there, including Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and LeBron James.
Players with the most touches are obviously at risk for turning the ball over more, but with the Sixers, it’s more about the timing of the turnovers than anything. They seem to come in clusters and late in games.
“It’s just bonehead plays,” T.J. McConnell said. “It comes from being unselfish. Some of the turnovers are just trying to make the extra pass, and that’s the kind of guys we have. We’re trying to get the best available shot, but sometimes it’s not the best shot.”
The Sixers are confident that with the remaining time left in the regular season that they can get a handle on playing with more care and a more deliberate approach. The goals are simple: limit turnovers, play better for longer stretches, and close out games strong.
“These last 16 games, they’re really going to dictate our future,” Robert Covington said. “We just have to go out and finish these games one by one.”