Considering how the Sixers lost yesterday, it’s fair to argue that the Wizards have their number — at the Capital One Arena, that is, where, for some reason or another, they’ve failed to taste victory in five years. It didn’t matter that the hosts were missing John Wall, out for the rest of the season due to a left heel injury, or that they just came off a rousing triumph against the very same opponents at the Wells Fargo Center. Apparently, there’s something in the Washington air that makes them forget they’re supposed to be crowding the top of the East and not the bottom.
On paper, the Sixers didn’t do badly. In fact, their Big Three managed to post significant numbers. Joel Embiid was a force down low, putting up 35 points on 17 shots along with 14 rebounds. Ben Simmons got to within two assists of a triple-double. Jimmy Butler, fresh off a talk with head coach Brett Brown on the expansion of his role in the offense, finished with 23 markers off a team-high 18 field-goal attempts. And still they got blown off the court; the 6-5 advantage they held not three minutes into the match proved to be their last one all game. By the time the first half ended, they were staring at a 15-point deficit that somehow got even worse after the third quarter.
Interestingly, the Sixers headed into the set-to having prevailed in their last four contests. They appeared ready to string together a run that would improve their Top-Four standing in the conference. The pacesetting Raptors were just three games ahead, and they seemed motivated, finally, to back up their preseason standing as a league powerhouse. Instead, they looked listless, overmatched even, against the Wizards yesterday, with pencil pushers not even needing to delve into advanced metrics to see their deficiencies. The Eye Test was all fans on site and in the comfort of homes needed to conclude that they remain a work in progress.
Certainly, the Sixers have the potential to challenge for the hardware. Embiid, Simmons, and Butler are too good not to amass win shares. On the other hand, they haven’t yet shown with consistency that they’re more than just a team of outstanding players and actually players on an outstanding team. And unless and until they do, they’ll be spending a lot of time wondering about the What Ifs and not enough of it relishing the Wows.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.