The Philadelphia 76ers are heading towards another season of disappointment unless the franchise is able to improve their form on the road. Brett Brown’s men made their intentions known ahead of the campaign that they were determined to kick on from the last time when they were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals for the second year on the bounce.
Although Jimmy Butler was lost in a trade deal with the Miami Heat, the Sixers emerged with Josh Richardson as part of the move. Tobias Harris’ contract was extended, while the franchise made a significant splash to sign Al Horford, robbing the Boston Celtics of their All-Star center.
Experience was a key factor in Philadelphia’s struggles in their back-to-back post-season exits, and the addition of Horford was supposed to provide guile and nous to a young side as well as stealing a quality player from a rival. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were expected to take another step in their development to help the Sixers become the leading outfit in the Eastern Conference.
However, it has not proven to be the case as the stretch run of the 2019/20 season approaches. Philadelphia is well off the pace of the Milwaukee Bucks in the number one seed, while the form of the Celtics, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, and the Indiana Pacers has pushed them down towards the sixth seed. It would create a tougher road in the post-season for the Sixers to handle, although they are still backed in the betting NBA odds as second favorite for the Eastern Conference crown behind the Bucks, despite their issues on the court.
The main problem has been the form and the fitness of Embiid. At his best, the 25-year-old is one of the top players in the NBA – as proven by his third-straight All-Star berth. Embiid’s numbers on the court have been impressive, averaging 23.0 points per game along with 12.1 rebounds. However, there have been occasions where he has struggled to raise the level of his game, particularly against rivals in the East.
Embiid endured one of the worst performances of his career in a defeat to the Celtics, shooting just 1-11 on the night, with nine of his points coming from the free-throw line. A finger injury had ruled him out of action for nine games during January, although he was fine on his return against the Golden State Warriors. If the Sixers are to make a run during the final two months of the regular season they need their All-Star locked in and focused to find the peak of his powers.
Support has not been forthcoming elsewhere in terms of points. Harris has averaged 19.4 points per game, but it’s not quite the standard Brown would have been hoping for from the forward after a five-year $180 million investment in the off-season. Ben Simmons has been impressive around the court, although his production in and around the rim is underwhelming for a player of his ability. Richardson has just been solid, failing to raise the level of his game after leaving Miami.
Then there has been the form of Horford, who has not looked himself on the court. He has struggled to find a consistent role in the team, which has hurt the levels of his output. There could be the possibility at the age of 33 Horford’s skills are beginning to decline. It’s a concern for the Sixers given the contract they handed to the center in free agency worth up to $109 million over four years. He’s not going to improve with age and if this is the best of Horford, then it could be an expensive choice made by the front office.
There’s still ample time for the Sixers to click on the court, but the signs are not looking positive. Philadelphia has talent aplenty, although at the moment it appears that they are a group of individuals rather than a championship-caliber outfit.
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