The Philadelphia 76ers fell to the Toronto Raptors 108-98 Nov. 20, and the score misleadingly implies that the game was a close one. Typically a subpar three-point shooting team (shooting 32.6 percent as a team before the game, a percentage that ranked 22nd out of 30 teams in the NBA), the Raptors were simply unconscious from downtown in the game, ending the game shooting over 48 percent from three-point range.
Offensively, the youth of the Sixers continues to bite them. In the game, the Sixers turned the ball over 21 times to Toronto’s 12. In his first game back since the San Antonio Spurs’ Nov. 11 dismantling of the Sixers, Michael Carter-Williams looked like the player he was expected to be. He’s a borderline elite defender due to his lankiness, instincts and effort level, but the man simply cannot shoot consistently. The most important aspect of this game: Spencer Hawes has somehow turned himself into an all-star caliber player. Hawes finished with 28 points in the game and 10 rebounds for yet another double-double.
The Sixers once again showed their resilience and incredible entertainment value Nov. 22 in a 115-107 overtime victory against the injury-depleted Milwaukee Bucks.
While this was a victory, it certainly was nothing to be proud of. The Sixers needed an overtime period to defeat a team that depends on veteran Caron Butler — who could have grown-up children at this point — and Nate Wolters for offensive output. If you look up “Nate Wolters highlights” on YouTube, the second video consists of highlights from a game where he put up a whopping nine points and four assists. When an offense depends on someone who scores nine points in his notable games, things aren’t good.
The Sixers had another 20-plus turnover game here, finishing with 26, including 15 in the first half. If they had played even an average NBA team, this most likely would have ended in an embarrassing loss. That being said — SPENCER HAWES?! Hawes hit a game-tying fadeaway three-pointer from the corner (in front of the Bucks’ bench) off one foot with less than one second left in regulation to send the game to overtime, where the Sixers dominated to get the victory. If rumors emerged that Hawes was spotted leaping tall buildings in a single bound and making locomotives feel inadequate in Metropolis, I wouldn’t doubt it for a second.
The team once again shocked the world Nov. 23, competing with the Indiana Pacers — a team predicted to be the biggest obstacle to the Miami Heat’s quest for a three-peat — for most of the game before a 106-98 loss.
In this game, the defense was the story. The Sixers somehow managed to overcome having James Anderson, Daniel Orton and Evan Turner shoot 4-18, 3-11 and 8-26 respectively. This was partially due to Carter-Williams doing his thing, shooting over 50 percent and scoring a career-high 29 points with six rebounds and seven steals. The defense forced 19 turnovers on a very good Pacers team and managed to avoid being embarrassed, as we’ve seen they sometimes can be.
So far this year, the Sixers are the worst in the NBA at three-point defense. They’ve allowed the most three-point attempts, the most three-pointers made and the highest three-point shooting percentage to opposing offenses.
The main problem with the Sixers defense right now is that the scheme requires double teams on opposing offensive players in the post due to the lack of a real shot-blocking presence in the paint. This allows opposing teams to simply pass the ball down into the post, wait for the double team, then pass the ball around the perimeter until the ball finds an open shooter.
Before overreacting to those seemingly horrifying statistics and their implication for the future, we need to remember that Nerlens Noel, the prized first-round pick from this year’s draft, is out indefinitely with an injury and should return to take the helm as the Sixers’ central shot-blocking force either later this year or next year. When Noel, who is an exceptional defender in the paint, makes his debut, he can take over the power forward position and be a strong presence in the paint when Hawes is inevitably traded. That should eliminate the need to double team in the post, allowing the wing defenders to stay closer to their assignments and most likely eliminating the three-point issues the Sixers are having.
Overall, the past three games seem to be par for the course with this team. They’re exciting, but they very often display their youth, inexperience and lack of talent. They can keep up with the best teams in the league but can also look clueless and lost on defense and lazy on offense for entire quarters. If you’ve been considering following the Sixers, you should do it. They’re absolutely bad, but they’re utterly unpredictable and almost always play hard to the whistle, which is all you can really ask of a team with such youth.
Turner summed up this team’s spirit very well when he told Philly.com, “We didn’t lie down and try to look around and see why we couldn’t win; we tried our best to win.” This statement embodies the type of spirit that resounds well with the Philadelphia fans and the type of environment that builds championship teams.
As Drexel legal studies major Dylan Cooper explained, “The future is bright, they have a coach that is instilling a philosophy both offensively and defensively that’s working, and the players are playing with effort that I haven’t seen from the team in years.”
If you’re one of the fans that’s fearful of all of these early victories and the impact they’ll have on next year’s draft lottery, relax. The team is 6-9 and currently has a negative point differential for the year, meaning they’re getting lucky and are overdue to lose even more than they have been. For the time being, enjoy the victories and brace yourself for the almost guaranteed losing streaks that will happen when general manager Sam Hinkie trades Hawes, Turner and Thaddeus Young for younger talent and even more draft picks.