Did Sixers need wake-up calls? Danny Green thinks so originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Sixers’ sixth man, Shake Milton, has missed the team’s last two games with a left ankle sprain, and head coach Doc Rivers doesn’t expect him to play Monday against the 22-5 Jazz either. The team has been much closer to full strength, though, than the only other time it suffered a losing streak this season.
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After Seth Curry’s positive COVID-19 test, few expected the Sixers to win games in which their roster was decimated by health and safety protocols.
Danny Green obviously isn’t pleased with the losses to the Blazers and Suns, the first games the team's first-choice starting lineup has dropped, but he thinks they can push the Sixers to be better.
“We learn a lot more from losses, so I guess we have a little more motivation, a little more fuel,” he said Sunday after a 120-11 defeat in Phoenix. “It’s a lot — I wouldn’t say easier, but it’s better going into a building like that (in Utah) with a chip on your shoulder and a little more of an edge. I think these wake-up calls were much-needed — just coasting through, thinking we’re going to win the game because we’re the 76ers and have the best team record in the East, it’s not going to happen.
“We’re going to get other teams’ best shot, so we have to come out and play for 48 (minutes). We came out, we showed some glimpses, we showed some potential of where we could be. We’ve just got to be more mature. We came out with a good start, I thought, then we let teams get back in it, then we let them get hot, and then next thing you know, we’re playing from behind. We’ve just to find a way to keep the foot on the gas and keep that focus for the full 48.”
A few minutes earlier, Ben Simmons had expressed a similar sentiment.
“We’ve got to know teams are going to come out and punch us in the face,” Simmons said. “We’ve got to expect it every night. I don’t think there’s any team out there that’s going to take us lightly, especially if we’re one of the top teams in the East. Everyone wants to play the top teams, so that’s us right now and we’ve got to be ready for teams when they give us their best shot.”
At 18-9, the Sixers are still first in the Eastern Conference, 1.5 games ahead of the second-place Bucks. Part of what stings about their last two losses, however, is that both Simmons and Embiid played excellent basketball and looked very good together. Simmons totaled 41 points on 16-for-21 shooting, 17 rebounds, 13 assists and three steals over the past two contests. Embiid scored 35 points in both games, including 16 in the fourth quarter Saturday.
The Sixers’ second unit has been poor without Milton, shooting a combined 13-for-38 with five assists. They were outscored 45-19 by Portland and 49-20 by Phoenix.
“Trust me, I’m not panicking. … I don’t think anybody on our staff is, but you still want them to play better,” head coach Doc Rivers said. “What you want them to do is see the importance of single possessions, because that’s playoff basketball and that helps me know who should play in the playoffs, as well.
“... At this point in the season, you have four or five guys in off your bench; it’s just to get through the season. You would never do that in a playoff game, and that’s why I don’t really give it that much thought. But I don’t want to lose leads — with whoever we have on the floor — and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Rivers’ point about regular-season rotations being different from postseason rotations is a good one, although the Sixers would ideally like to have competition for spots and tough decisions to make when the postseason nears.
That’s still a long way off, but the March 25 trade deadline is creeping a bit closer. President of basketball operations Daryl Morey is undoubtedly taking everything in and assessing where the team he helped assemble in his first offseason with the Sixers might be able to improve. Rivers was frank before the game about the Sixers’ bench lacking a true point guard to facilitate smooth offense.
It also would not be surprising at all if Morey seeks more three-point shooting. Since Jan. 16, the Sixers are last in the NBA in three-point frequency (25.2 percent) and 28th in three-point percentage (34.4 percent), according to Cleaning the Glass. The team hasn’t surpassed 30 three-point attempts in a game once during that stretch.
In the short term, Utah, which has won 18 of its last 19 games, is up next to wrap up this difficult four-game West Coast trip.
“Can’t wait,” Simmons said. “I can’t wait to see them.”