CAMDEN, NJ — The Philadelphia 76ers still have yet to take that leap into full-fledged title contention. Once again they are close enough to be in the conversation but not good enough to truly be considered. There are many issues facing the Sixers, with one particular issue sticking out most in recent games.

Rebounding has been an issue for the Sixers for just about the whole season. The warning signs were there and getting killed on the glass is actively costing them games, even against tanking teams. Philly doesn’t offset their issues on the defensive glass by generating offensive boards (they’re one of the worst at that in the NBA) or force turnovers at a spectacularly high rate (they’re in the top-10 but closer to 19th place than the top spot), exacerbating the need to improve.

Doc Rivers — one of the many people championing the team’s newfound identity of toughness before and during the season — knows the Sixers have to get better on the boards. He pointed to their defensive performance overall as the reason why they are failing to crash the glass well.

“Keep the ball out of the paint. Those two games were obvious,” Rivers said, referring to the Sixers’ recent losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets. “The driver was in the paint, our bigs go to help, they go to shoot. Even with us boxing out, that’s a guard trying to block out a seven-footer. That’s why when we’re good defensively, we’re good [at] rebounding. And when we’re good defensively, we’re keeping the ball out of the paint. And for two days, that’s all we drilled: ball out of the paint, we rebound. Ball in the paint, it makes rebounding harder.

During the Sixers’ recent three-game road trip, they got crushed on the boards. Joel Embiid having to cover so much ground defensively was a key reason, but the big fella also failed to box out in several instances. Philly doesn’t have the high-level athletes to fight for any given board and it led to them digging holes for themselves that they couldn’t escape.

Tobias Harris was one of the main culprits against the Rockets, as he struggled to get positioning and put Philly in tough situations. He said the Sixers have to “for sure” do a better job of rebounding and held himself accountable for it, too.

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“I think that was more of an effort on everybody’s part, including myself,” Harris said. “We got to be more physical. We got to hit first and really, we’re allowing teams to have too many open lanes and get by us and get downhill. I think that’s creating more over-help situations that’s leading to more straight-line drives and things of that nature. But when that ball goes up, we all need to check out and get the rebound.”

The Sixers’ woeful defensive concerns from early in the year are fading as they start to show signs of being a good defense. But if they continue to struggle to finish possessions, that progress will fade. Their ability to win the battle on the boards will be tested on Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers.