PHILADELPHIA — Even among a stretch filled with plenty of success, the Philadelphia 76ers are showing to be vulnerable. Joel Embiid and his squad have continued to shine but, aside from the playoff struggles of their past that make it tough to buy them as top-tier championship contenders, there is an on-court weakness showing more and more.
The Sixers are one of the hottest teams in the NBA but their last three games have a common theme: ugly defensive struggles. They were able to overcome them against the Brooklyn Nets and Denver Nuggets thanks to an Embiid masterclass but the plucky, athletic Orlando Magic exposed them in a comeback win on Philly’s home floor. After the game, Embiid was asked why they haven’t been as good on defense as of late.
“Effort. I said it after last game, we got to be able to put 48 minutes together,” Embiid said. “Last game, we weren’t good in the first half. But we focused in that second half and we got the win. Tonight was the opposite…I think our halfcourt defense is pretty good. So if we’re not allowing teams to get easy baskets — and that’s by taking care of the ball — I think we put ourselves in a better position. But I think that’s the key for us.”
Turnovers were indeed a big part of the Sixers’ struggles. Coughing up the ball up 19 times led to easy scoring opportunities for a Magic team that is starting to find itself. Orlando may be tough but the way Philly lost was downright awful.
“We gave up 35 points in the second quarter and 42 points in the third quarter,” noted Sixers head coach Doc Rivers. “The couple things before the game we talked about was [that] offensive rebounds and turnovers gives that team energy because they’re long, they’re athletic, it gets them out running. And then once they get their offense going, it gives them energy. So, we did exactly what we were not supposed to do.”
The Sixers will get another crack at the Magic before heading on the road. They will need to tighten up their defense if they want to reclaim the second seed in the Eastern Conference.