The Sixers once again found a way to snatch defeat from the throes of victory the other day, and fans have become restless. Per preseason predictions, stalwarts of the red, white, and blue looked to be battling with the likes of the Bucks and Celtics at the top of the Eastern Conference, not struggling to keep within distance of a play-in spot. And their problems run the gamut, exacerbated by their seeming inability to stay competitive in the crunch — not quite reflective of their roster depth bannered by two transcendent All-Stars.
True, the Sixers have been hampered by the lack of consistency of top dog Joel Embiid. A bout with plantar fasciitis in the offseason prevented him from hitting the ground running early on, and a cacophony of other ailments conspired to keep him out of the lineup in four of their 10 matches to date. Then again, it’s telling that their even slate with him on the bench trumps their capacity to claim only two of the six set-tos in which he was available. They appear to be fundamentally unsound, and even head coach Doc Rivers is ostensibly at a loss as to why.
The Sixers’ woes don’t end there. Over the foreseeable future, they will need to traverse the landscape with former Most Valuable Player awardee James Harden out due to a right foot tendon strain. Perhaps the sense of urgency will awaken Embiid from his stupor; his numbers may be close to his career lines, but a simple eye test shows the absence of pep in his step. It’s why their effort on defense has been lacking since the National Basketball Association drew the curtains on its 2022-23 campaign.
Significantly, Embiid declared with no small measure of confidence that the Sixers would have the league’s best defensive rating. Instead, they’re in the bottom third of rankings to date, with no discernible solution in sight. Little wonder, then, that longtime hoops habitues in the City of Brotherly Love aren’t feeling any. The good news: Four-fifths of the regular season lie ahead, more than enough for them to turn their fortunes around. The bad news: Their worst enemies are in their own backyard, and how — or if — they bear themselves will ultimately determine their fate.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.