The responses were typical, yet unflinchingly honest, in the aftermath of a third consecutive loss, but the true test for the Philadelphia 76ers is whether they turn their criticism into action.
Almost to a man, the 76ers took turns self-flagellating after the Indiana Pacers ran them off the court on Tuesday, an 18-point loss that saddled Philadelphia with its second three-game skid in just over two weeks. The 76ers were without center Joel Embiid (knee), but his absence offered no rationale for their lackadaisical play, and to their credit, they weren’t seeking excuses.
And now, with the finale of their four-game road trip set for Friday against the Houston Rockets, the 76ers are seeking to make something from their harsh self-assessments.
“In all honesty, I think what we have to do is look one another in the eye and look ourselves in the mirror and evaluate and take ownership on our own individual play, and then figure out individually what we can do better one-on-one as a man and come to the table and try to mesh that together as a team,” Sixers forward Tobias Harris said.
“We just need to come together and really sit down and talk about it — defense and offense,” Sixers point guard Ben Simmons said. “It’s times we look like a championship team, and there are nights … where don’t look like we should even be here. We’ve got to take ownership of that, look in the mirror and say what we want out of this team.”
On Christmas, the 76ers resembled a title contender during their thrashing of the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks. They haven’t won since, fueling concerns over their offensive potential while only occasionally showcasing the defensive might presumed to serve as their foundation. Without Embiid the 76ers are clearly less potent, but Philadelphia has cultivated enough talent to at least somewhat offset the hole in their lineup when he sits.
And that is when the external critiques are both pointed and deserving. The 76ers realize this and have not ducked from the truth that their roster was assembled to produce superior results.
“I don’t think that there’s enough accountability in our locker room right now,” Sixers guard Josh Richardson said. “I think that’s where a lot of our problems start.”
In their 130-104 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, the Rockets took a step toward combating the aggression with which opponents have double-teamed All-NBA guard James Harden this season. Houston was far more assertive and energetic in moving the ball once Harden faced a second defender, doing so with such vigor that the Nuggets eventually relented.
The return of guard Eric Gordon from knee surgery certainly helps, for it provides the Rockets another sharpshooter with the potential to drill perimeter shots when Harden passes out of the double team. The Rockets will be cautious in ramping up Gordon, but his impact will be felt.
“He’ll add a whole other dimension and makes it easier on everybody,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Another guy that can either iso or go through what we do and he spreads the floor even more than what we spread it. There’s a lot of benefits with him playing.
“And defensively, no one talks about he’s one of our best defenders on ball, and if he gets switched off he can guard bigs. There’s a lot of things to Eric’s game that are not talked about that are really important to us.”
–Field Level Media