Game Preview | Team Focused on Getting Back on Track

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Scene Setter:

CAMDEN, NJ - “Make shots, gets stops, and win games.”

The formula that Ben Simmons proposed for the 76ers following Tuesday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings was simple and straightforward. Now, the matter becomes executing it, regardless of circumstances.

With 10 days left in December, the second month of the season has been anything but forgiving for the Sixers. Key players - not just the club’s leading scorer and rebounder - have been in and out of the line-up, and the schedule has remained a bear.

While challenging, Brett Brown knows that stretches like the one the Sixers currently find themselves in come hand-and-hand with the regular rhythms of a season. 

“That’s life in the NBA,” Brown said earlier this week, noting the Sixers, on various nights in December, have been without Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, and Dario Saric.

The fifth-year head coach, however, isn’t seeking sympathy or pity.

“There are different things that haven’t helped us, but it’s how do you arrest it.”

There’s no doubt the Sixers have experienced some disappointment and frustration in recent week, all natural emotions. But as Simmons’ quote succinctly captured, the group hasn’t lost sight of the task at hand, and issues that need to be resolved.

Addressing Simmons’ remarks in sequential order, the Sixers could certainly benefit from seeing a few more shots go down, particularly from outside the arc, which Brown acknowledged Tuesday. Looks - and a fair amount of quality ones - have been there; the Sixers simply haven’t been able to find the bottom of the net on a consistent enough basis. Given the perimeter talent on the roster, the odds seem pretty good that this trend will ultimately change.

More than anything, though, Brown has zeroed in on the Sixers’ defense. On November 30th, their 103.3 defensive rating was 10th best in the league, right where Brown had targeted the team being by season’s end. In December, the Sixers have posted a 105.6 defensive rating, which ranks 14th overall.

Have the Sixers been asked to get by without Embiid, who boasts the 10th-best individual defensive rating (99.9) among players averaging at least 25 minutes in a minimum of 20 games? Yes. Again, Brown isn’t looking for excuses.

“It’s, ‘Are you playing good basketball?’ is where I set my sights,” said Brown Tuesday. “We have to reclaim who we are. That’s the message to the locker room.”

Consider it received. 

“At the end of games, we just got to be better,” said T.J. McConnell, “and have good offense, and not have breakdowns on defense. Flat out just be better. That’s all I can say.”

McConnell was also quick to bring a level-headed, appropriate perspective to the Sixers’ situation.

“It’s an 82-game season,” he said. “You can’t think about [losses] too much. You can’t get them back. You just got to move on, and be ready for your next game.”

And so forward-thinking the Sixers will go, as they get set to enter another demanding segment of the schedule. Starting with Thursday’s match-up against the Toronto Raptors (7:00 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network), 11 of the Sixers’ next 12 games will come against opponents presently occupying playoff spots.

“I think we can get a great run going into Christmas,” Simmons said. “I believe in this team, the coaches. I don’t doubt any body, or the ability for us to win.”

The determination is there. The Sixers hope to have positive outcomes follow.

Opponent Outlook:

The Toronto Raptors (21-8) come to The Center on a roll, having won 10 of their last 11 games, including a 129-111 road win Wednesday in Charlotte. The Raps produced three separate 20-point scorers, in DeMar DeRozan (28 pts, 8 ast), Serge Ibaka (24 pts, 5 reb), and O.G. Anunoby (20 pts).

Follow Along:

Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports app

Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network