Sixers' road woes could hurt them come playoff time | Keith Pompey

76ers Heat Basketball
Sixers point guard Ben Simmons, center, drives as Heat forward James Johnson, left and Goran Dragic defend during the Sixers’ loss on Friday.

For the most part, the 76ers were calm Thursday night following their latest road blunder against a team with which they’re fighting for playoff position.

About 15 minutes removed from the 108-99 loss to the Heat in Miami, coach Brett Brown said the Sixers had a “tremendous learning [experience] that we are going through right now.”

Shortly afterward, veteran reserve center Amir Johnson said in the locker room that the Sixers just had to watch film and go over their mistakes to improve. And shooting guard JJ Redick, another vet, said the Sixers’ road funk against playoff-caliber opponents is reminiscent of the late-season team struggles he experienced as a reserve with the 2008-09 Orlando Magic. Redick pointed out that the Magic advanced to the NBA Finals that season.

So the Sixers are calm despite losing eight of their last 11 road games.  At least that’s the perception they’re putting out there.

But their last five road losses were against Eastern Conference teams that would currently be in the playoffs: the Heat twice (Thursday and Feb. 27), the Milwaukee Bucks (March 4), the Washington Wizards (Feb. 25), and the Indiana Pacers (Feb. 3). With Washington’s loss to Miami on Saturday, the Wizards dropped to the fifth seed with the Pacers moving up to fourth. The Heat remained seventh, and the Bucks are eighth.

The Sixers are sixth with 18 games remaining. The top eight teams at the conclusion of the regular season advance to the playoffs. The Sixers have gone on record saying that they want a top-four seed for home-court advantage in the first round.

They have won 13 straight games at the Wells Fargo Center. The road is a different story.

Yes, they defeated the third-seeded Cavaliers in Cleveland on March 1, overcoming LeBron James’ 30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Even though the Cavs were undermanned, that was thought to be a confidence-boosting road victory for the Sixers. That was until the Sixers blew a 20-point first-half lead and a 19-point second-half cushion in a loss in Milwaukee three days later. That was supposed to be a statement game against a Bucks team that went into the game with four straight losses.

Instead, they were exposed in Wisconsin against a team that went on to lose its next two games.

Brown  acted as if the losses aren’t big deals. He views the games as teaching moments for the postseason.

“You are playing against legitimate teams that will be in the playoffs,” Brown said. “You’re feeling a playoff defense. You are feeling a playoff intensity, and we will learn from this.

“And how we take these recent examples and do what you just asked will be completely thought through and we understand the holy grail of the next month.”

 

Camera icon YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Sixers coach Brett Brown, reacting  to a foul call, sees the road losses as teaching experiences.

Johnson backs his coach.

“Brett is right,” Johnson said after Thursday’s loss. “A game like this, we can definitely clean up our mistakes we’ve made, especially on the defensive part.

“It just gets us prepared and ready for the next game.”

The problem is that they haven’t shown much improvement on the road against playoff-caliber opponents.

The Sixers’ 18 turnovers Thursday were eight fewer than the season-high of 26 they had against the Bucks. However, they were still costly, leading to 20 Miami points. They also had a tough time defending in both games.

So how can they correct those road woes?

“That’s why we like to get in the four-five [playoff spot] and get home-court advantage [in the first round],” said a smiling Redick, whose team is 15-19 overall on the road. “It’s tough to win, period, in the NBA. It’s tough to win on the road. We are figuring it out.

“It’s not about correcting. It’s about figuring it out and getting better.”

The Sixers will look to get a road win at 7:30 p.m. Sunday against the struggling Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center. Only seven of their remaining games are on the road. None of the Sixers’ road opponents – the Nets (21-45), New York Knicks (24-42), Orlando Magic (20-46), Atlanta Hawks twice (20-46), Hornets (28-38), and Detroit Pistons (30-36) – had winning records heading into Saturday’s games.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers (38-28) on Tuesday, the Minnesota Timberwolves (38-29) on March 24, the Denver Nuggets (36-30) two days later, the Cavaliers (38-27) on April 6, and the Bucks (35-31) on April 11 are the five teams the Sixers will face with winning records, and all five games are at Wells Fargo.

So the Sixers’ easy schedule could catapult them into the fourth seed. They were two games out of fourth place heading into Saturday’s league action.

The Sixers just need to show that they can win a playoff game on the road.