I’m not sure there are many lessons you can take from this most recent Sixers loss. No doubt, the raw numbers were ugly, starting with the 123-96 margin on the AT&T Center scoreboard. Mostly, though, this was one of those games on an NBA team’s schedule that you just have to ignore when it comes to any sort of bigger picture evaluation. The Sixers were playing the second leg of a back-to-back after flying 1,500 miles and crossing time zones; they were facing the best coach in the NBA in the finale of a six-game homestand; they had a star player in Jimmy Butler who had just made his return from a groin injury the previous day. Back-to-backs are tough enough. The Sixers had already lost three of their first four nightcaps of the season, the lone exception an overtime win in Charlotte. In short, this was not an ideal situation for the squad.
And yet …
While there may not have been a lot of viable takeaways to glean from this sort of stinker, there was at least one: Everybody has long known that this Sixers team needs help, that the current roster is highly unlikely to be the one that they will carry into the postseason, that it is only a matter of time before Elton Brand and his overlords add another viable rotation piece to the fold. None of that insight was revealed in this particular loss. Rather, the wrinkle that came out of Monday was more of a reminder than anything that there is something to be gained from making said addition sooner rather than later.
Ever since the Sixers added Butler via trade in mid-November, the conventional wisdom has said that Brand and Co. can afford to be patient and let the trade market unfold and, if need be, wait until the buyout market heats up if that is what is required to avoid sacrificing a significant asset in return for a rotational piece. The basis for that sort of thinking goes something like this. They still have 13 games remaining against the Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Hawks, Suns and Wizards. Win 10 of those games and they’d need to play just .500 ball against the remainder of the schedule to get to 50 wins. That’s hardly a daunting proposition. Last year, they were 25-25 on Feb. 3 and ended up with 52 wins and the No. 3 seed. This year, they are even better.
Lately, though, there has been plenty of reason to question the assumptions that are baked into that sort of projection, starting with an observation that is as unsettling as it is indisputable: the Sixers are just an injury way from a midseason funk that could dramatically impact their chances of securing one of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
To a certain extent, you can say that about any NBA team, just as you could have said it about the Sixers at any point over the last calendar year. But not to the extent that you can say it now about this particular roster. Before, such a concern was mostly limited to the superstars: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and, since mid-November, Butler. But a couple of different developments have extended the potential for calamitous disruption to aging players like JJ Redick and Wilson Chandler.