The Sixers are slipping and the consequences could be dire

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Kelly Oubre Jr. (9) goes up for a shot against Memphis Grizzlies’ Matt Hurt (20) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia 76ers have officially hit a new season low. Blowing double-digit leads in back-to-back games, the Sixers are now a play-in team. For the foreseeable future, they will remain without their two best players, Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. Maxey may return within a few days, but there hasn’t been an update on his concussion yet. Regardless, the Sixers’ upcoming stretch will be brutal.

The Memphis Grizzlies and the Brooklyn Nets have a combined record of 47-78. Though the Sixers were missing a few key players in both games, the Nets and Grizzlies were even more injury-riddled. To put it simply, there was no excuse to lose either game. 

The fourth quarter has been the turning point in the last two games. The Sixers seemed to run out of gas, going on long stretches without scoring. It was eerily similar to how both games played out, with each team inching their way back until they took the lead. Again, in both games, the Sixers lacked someone that could take over a game. 

Tobias Harris was abysmal in the fourth quarter, as he could not take over when the team needed him most. Finishing with 8 points on the night on 3-12 shooting, Harris was outscored by six players on the Sixers. Of those six players, two were on the bench, and one was a two-way player making his home debut. Another untimely poor performance from Harris cost the Sixers a gut-wrenching loss. According to Kelly Oubre Jr., there was some good that could be taken from the loss. 

Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (9) celebrates after scoring 3-pointer against the Utah Jazz during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

“I think we could learn a lot from tonight because we all knew that Memphis was missing a lot of guys and so are we, and it was a real testament of hard work beats talent when talent don’t work hard. I just think that was the whole gist of the game tonight and they just stuck with it for 48 minutes.” Said Oubre. 

Based on the “eye test,” it was clear that the most prominent thing the Sixers lacked in the second half of these games was effort. Regardless of their efforts to take the lead, they couldn’t sustain their energy long enough to make it worthwhile. The saying “basketball is a game of runs” couldn’t be more true than it has been over the last two games. The Sixers couldn’t seem to consistently maintain a lead for more than a few minutes at a time. They also weren’t down for long stretches until it was crunch time when it mattered most. 

What’s next for the Sixers?

Philadelphia 76ers’ Paul Reed, right, struggles for a loose ball against Memphis Grizzlies’ GG Jackson during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

As opposed to the 47-78 combined record of their previous two opponents, the Sixers will be playing 10 teams with a record above .500 over their next 12 games. Up until the last few games of the season, the Sixers will be on an extremely difficult run. 

Focusing on their next five games, Philly will be in serious danger of dropping to the eighth seed, digging a hole that will be very hard to get out of.  Playing the Pelicans, the Knicks twice, the Bucks, and the Hornets, it’s likely the Sixers only come out with one win or less. This is heavily dependent on Maxey’s status against the Knicks and Bucks, as they could pull off an upset if led by a more reliable option. 

The Sixers’ status over their next 10 games could have monumental implications on Embiid’s return this season. The possibility of finishing the season as a play-in team is very real, and that won’t help the chances of Embiid returning.

Sixers, Embiid
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) watches from the bench as the 76ers fall behind the Boston Celtics during the second half of Game 7 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series, Sunday, May 14, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

It’s unlikely Embiid would return to play in a play-in game, but it’s not impossible. He’s a big competitor, so making the playoffs might be enough motivation for him to play. This is all assuming he’s healthy, of course. The last thing the Sixers would want to do is re-injure him (again).

Furthermore, Philadelphia will be very active this offseason as they will have a lot of money to work with. It’s very possible that Embiid won’t suit up again this season if the Sixers don’t feel it’s worth the risk.