The 24-14 Sixers are on pace for 52 victories.
After a disappointing 0-4 holiday road trip, the 76ers showed some reasons to be encouraged in Monday night’s 120-113 win over the Thunder.
At the top of the list was hitting 50% of their 3-point attempts (13 for 26) and handing out 31 assists while committing just 10 turnovers. Plus, all five starters scored in double figures for the first time since their previous victory — a 121-109 Christmas Day win over the NBA-leading Bucks five games earlier.
The 24-14 Sixers are on pace for 52 victories. Heading into Thursday evening’s home date with the Atlantic Division-leading Celtics and three games before the midway point of the season, it’s fair to wonder if the Sixers’ issues are in the process of being solved or will remain for the rest of the year.
Things like style of play, the Joel Embiid/Al Horford offensive tandem, half-court spacing and 3-point shooting have been keeping coach Brett Brown busy.
After favoring more of a free-flowing, motion offensive approach during his first six seasons with the Sixers, analytics show they’ve been more successful with Brown running set plays in 2019-20. So Brown has been calling plays.
“I’ve got to stamp my foot and call a play,” Brown said. “I don’t like doing that, but I have to do that.”
Asked what he thinks of utilizing a set offense, Embiid replied, “According to the numbers, we’ve been better since he’s been calling plays every time down the floor in half-court situation. From time to time, I feel like we are unorganized so the fact that he does it, I think, is good.”
Embiid might not be available vs. Boston due to a dislocated left ring finger.
Yet Simmons is most effective pushing the ball at every opportunity. Fellow all-star Embiid, meanwhile, is better suited to a more deliberate offense.
With all five starters capable of scoring in the low post, proper spacing is a constant concern. And so is Brown wanting the Sixers to more actively seek 3-point shots despite not having constant perimeter threat JJ Redick anymore.
“We need to hunt 3s in a more definitive way than we currently are,” Brown said. “I think the 3-point shot is not always we need to make more — we need to take more.”
Brown primarily is looking for Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris and Horford to shoot additional 3s.
Harris went 4 for 6 on 3-pointers against the Thunder, while Richardson made 2 of 4 e route to scoring a team-high 23 points and Horford was 1 for 2 from downtown.
Interestingly, Simmons has only attempted one 3-pointer in the last 15 games — and that was a desperation shot at the buzzer — since Brown announced he wanted Simmons taking “a minimum of one” per game.
Asked about it Monday, Brown said, “Evidently, I have failed. It’s something that we’re all mindful of. This is one of these things that’s never going to go away. The attention that this has received is remarkable, but I guess I helped fuel it. I own it. I’ve got to help him find this. And, most importantly, he has to help himself.”
I still say 3-pointers shouldn’t be a primary focus with Simmons. Instead, worry more about attacking the rim instead of giving up short shots — such as the layup he bypassed by dishing to Horford for a second-quarter midrange jumper Monday — and taking the open 10- to 12-footers he can get anytime.
The 33-year-old Horford struggled during the four-game skid, averaging just 6.5 points and shooting 11 for 34 (32.4%) in that span. But he showed signs of life with 13 points on 6-for-10 shooting vs. Oklahoma City. Still, playing Horford alongside Embiid late in games can be difficult for Brown due to matchups, since both are natural centers.
The Sixers are a superb 17-2 at the Wells Fargo Center, where they’ve defeated upper-echelon clubs such as Boston, Miami, Milwaukee, Denver and Utah. But a 7-12 road mark with losses to sub-.500 clubs the Magic, Suns and Wizards has to change.
If the Sixers, who have NBA Finals aspirations, don’t finish with a winning road record, they’re probably not going to have home court advantage in the second round of the playoffs, which is not ideal.
“It’s just a matter of putting it all together at the right times,” Simmons said. “Losing games we shouldn’t lose obviously frustrates us, but we know we can compete with the best teams.”
There’s still time to make this work, but Brown and the Sixers need to find permanent solutions to these concerns ASAP for it to happen.
Tom Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org; @TomMoorePhilly