WASHINGTON -- There is a question commonly asked when the Sixers lose a game.
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"Did Embiid play?"
Because the standout rookie does not suit up every game -- he is not playing in back-to-backs -- his availability has become a key topic after each night.
On the surface it would be easy to point to Joel Embiid's absence in Saturday's 109-93 loss to the Wizards as "the reason." (see Instant Replay) He is the team's leading scorer, changes the feel of the game simply by being on the court, and has been the hero in many of the Sixers' wins.
That's not the way, however, the Sixers can look at games in which he is sidelined.
"Let's not go to Joel," Brett Brown said. "We still look internally. We still look at what we have, how do we play it better, how do we coach it better, how do we get better. That's the gym that we had and that's the gym that we have to make work."
The Sixers didn't lack a major offensive contributor. Jahlil Okafor scored 26 points in his first game back from four straight DNPs. Embiid is averaging 19.6 points per game, so that checkbox was marked off.
When it came to free points, the Sixers gave them away. They shot 11 for 21 from the line and committed 16 turnovers that led to 15 Wizards' points.
Defensively the Sixers struggled as a whole. They allowed 25 points to an injured John Wall and 20 to Bradley Beal -- and the two guards played only three quarters. The Sixers were outscored 30-15 in the third when the Wizards stole control of the game.
"I think the entire defense wasn't as good as it should have been," Nerlens Noel said. "I think they got way too many fast break points (11 to 8), we should have taken care of the ball a little bit better. I think Coach has been doing alright, so I think the team just has to play a little bit harder than that."
Embiid has missed 11 games this season. The Sixers have won two of those games, including against the Wizards. They beat the Wizards 109-102 on Nov. 16. John Wall still ran up the scoreboard with 27 points, but Bradley Beal did not play (hamstring). Okafor led the Sixers with 19 points in a balanced team effort.
On Dec. 11 the Sixers blew out the Pistons, 97-79, on the road. Again, the scoring game across the floor with five players in double digits. T.J. McConnell was one assist shy of a triple-double.
The Sixers have not indicated there will be a change in Embiid's back-to-back availability in the near future. This is an issue they will have to tackle, and often at that. The Sixers have three sets of consecutive games in this month alone.
"We didn't have that extra oomph," Brown said. "Obviously the omission of Joel Embiid clearly is impactful, but that's the challenge. We just didn't have it tonight."