For the second time in as many games, the Philadelphia 76ers were embarrassed by an Eastern Conference contender on Monday night, as the Sixers were routed by the Miami Heat by a score of 137-106.
That loss came two days after losing to a Kemba Walker-less and Enes Kanter-less Boston Celtics team by 21 points.
Overall, the 76ers have lost three straight to drop to 31-20 on the season, good for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. While Philadelphia is certainly one heck of a dangerous 6-seed, this is not where the club envisioned itself being back in July, and Brett Brown is in danger because of it.
Remember: last spring, Brown’s job seemed to be in danger following the Sixers’ second-round playoff loss to the Toronto Raptors, but given that the 76ers put forth a hard-fought effort in seven games and seemed to be outmatched in terms of top-to-bottom talent, Philly management left Brown off the hook.
But the more the 76ers lose, the shorter Brown’s leash becomes.
The last three games represented a microcosm of the 76ers’ ineptitude away from the Wells Fargo Center, as they also fell to the Atlanta Hawks by a score of 127-117 on the road last Thursday before dropping away games in Boston and Miami.
And things don’t get any easier for the Sixers on Thursday, as they will take on the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks in Wisconsin in a game where the Bucks will be seeking revenge for their Christmas Day loss to Joel Embiid and Co.
So how much of the 76ers’ road woes (and struggles in general) are a result of Brown?
Well, after the Heat game on Monday, Embiid questioned why he wasn’t getting the ball more (via Ky Carlin of Sixers Wire), as the All-Star big man attempted just four shots in the second half.
Brown said Miami’s zone defense gave Embiid trouble. Embiid disagreed, saying that Philadelphia should have found a way to get him the rock.
This could be much ado about nothing, or it could be symptomatic of trouble brewing in the City of Brotherly Love.
Brown has long been questioned for his inability to make in-game adjustments, particularly against better coaches such as Brad Stevens and Nick Nurse. So this could just serve as another example of Brown not being able to remedy problems mid-game.
But at the same time, there is only so much Brown can do with a limited roster.
On paper, the Sixers look good. Embiid. Ben Simmons. Al Horford. Tobias Harris.
But as talented as the 76ers may be collectively, anyone who has been watching basketball for a respectable period of time could see the potential issues with this roster.
This team has no spacing. It has no depth. Horford is playing out of position and is having quite possibly the worst season of his career as a result. Harris is grossly overpaid. The team lacks ball-handlers outside of Simmons.
Just throwing together a bunch of talented players is not how you build a basketball team. Fit matters, and it’s clear that Philadelphia is lacking in that department.
We don’t need to look any further than last season’s Celtics to see the warning signs of a team that just does not play well together in spite of immense talent (and last year’s Celtics had significantly more depth than this year’s Sixers).
Clearly, something is wrong here, and it can’t just be Brown.
That’s not to say that Brown can’t do a better job, because, again, his lack of creativity is blatant, and he frequently gets out-coached in close games.
But these games haven’t been close. Philly is getting shredded, signifying problems that obviously go beyond the head coach.
Even the 76ers’ body language has been questionable, as Embiid does not look like he is having fun (he even said as much earlier in the year), Horford looks uncomfortable and Simmons could very well be eliciting some eye rolls in the locker room due to his utter refusal to take a jump shot (Embiid has taken subtle jabs at Simmons not even attempting to space the floor).
This also isn’t like previous years. The East is actually pretty loaded at the top. The Bucks, Celtics, Heat, Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers all mean business, so Philadelphia can’t just expect to flip a switch in the playoffs, especially considering that this team has never even gotten past the second round.
The thing is, whenever a talented team struggles in this fashion, generally, the first person to take the blame is the coach.
Elton Brand put this roster together expecting to contend for a championship. Even if he ignored how crucial the losses of Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick were, his expectations were higher than what we are currently seeing.
I’m not sure firing Brown would be of much help to the 76ers at this point. There are only two-and-a-half months remaining in the regular season, and having to adjust to a new coach this late would probably not be the best thing in the world for the squad.
But I can tell you this: if Philadelphia gets knocked out of the playoffs early again (and this year, it could be as soon as the first round), Brown’s stay in Philly will almost certainly be over.