Why do the Sixers keep losing?

Simmons: ‘I don’t think we’ve been focusing down the stretch.’

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Philadelphia 76ers
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
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Right now, the Sixers stink. They lost back-to-back games Monday and Tuesday, dropping two games under .500 on the season after losing in seven of their last eight. Tuesday, the Sixers were winning by 16 points in the second half and managed to blow the game to the 10-20 Sacramento Kings. The Sixers were outscored 30 to 17 in the fourth quarter losing 101-95 after opening the fourth quarter up 78-71.

Within three minutes the Sixers had not only blown their entire lead, they trailed the Kings 81-78. They didn’t score their first point of the 12-minute fourth quarter until the 7:29 mark.

“I don’t think we’ve been focusing down the stretch,” star rookie Ben Simmons told reporters after the game. “Missing shots. Not calling the right plays. Things like that, where it comes down to us not focusing and making sure we’re committed to defense and offense at the same time.”

When pressed why he thought the team was losing focus, Simmons didn’t have an answer. “I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I think we need to come together and figure it out as a team.”

As a team, the Sixers shot 28.6 percent from three, making only 10 of 35 attempted shots beyond the arc. In the fourth quarter the Sixers missed seven three-pointers and made three. They had six turnovers in the fourth quarter, giving the ball away 19 times, while only forcing 11.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Philadelphia 76ers
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Monday night the Sixers lost in Chicago 117-115 in a game they led by nine points with under six minutes to play. With less than four minutes to go in that game the Sixers were up 107-99 — an eight-point lead with 3:49 left — and then within one game minute the contest was tied.

In eight combined possessions, the Sixers had a charge (and a turnover), a blocked shot against and a missed three-pointer, allowing the Bulls a layup, two wide-open three pointers, another jumper and two free throws. The game went from the Sixers up eight to down three in a flash.

To answer, the Sixers finished the game scoring on three of their final five possessions — Simmons had a weak attempt at a drive down two points in the waning seconds of the game — but the defense allowed Chicago to score on three-straight possessions down the stretch to stay ahead and close out the game.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Chicago Bulls
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Do you want to know why the Sixers haven’t been winning? They can’t get big buckets late, and they can’t stop the other team when they need to. Oh, and they are terrible at protecting the basketball.

In the Chicago loss, the Sixers had 20 turnovers. They forced 15. In the fourth quarter, they missed seven three-point shots, not including the desperation heave by Simmons as time expired. They made four.

In the triple-overtime loss to OKC last Friday — the last Joel Embiid was on the court, as he continues to sit with back tightness after logging 48 minutes against the Thunder — the Sixers did not hold a lead in regulation, but got out to a five-point lead in the first overtime.

The Sixers were up 102-97 with 1:21 to play in the first OT and didn’t score again, missing four shots while allowing OKC to score on two of their final three possessions. But for a huge block by Embiid on Russell Westbrook, the Sixers would have lost in the first overtime.

In the 15 combined minutes of overtime on Friday, the Sixers were 1-for-9 from three.

Joel Embiid has missed four of the last six games, all losses. And of the seven games Embiid has missed so far this season the team has won just once.

Without Embiid, the offense looks lost. Spacing on the floor is poor, and many of the shots not taken in transition are forced, off-balance or with a hand in the shooter’s face, all much lower percentage shots than at earlier points in these games.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Philadelphia 76ers
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The defense has struggled to protect the rim, as well. In last week’s loss to New Orleans, without Embiid, the Pelicans shot 57.5 percent from the floor and scored 131 points. The Pels had 14 turnovers to the Sixers’ 17. Still, the Sixers held a seven-point lead with under 10 minutes to play in that game and ended up losing by seven, getting outscored 44-29 in that quarter and giving up 28 points in the final eight and a half minutes.

While the defense is certainly better with Embiid on the floor, it’s not as if they’ve been good. The Sixers haven’t held an opponent to under 100 points since November 22, a span of 13 games.

What’s more, it’s not just that their own turnovers have hurt the Sixers; they aren’t making up for the mistakes with enough key passes to open shooters. Tuesday night they had 19 turnovers and just 21 assists. Against the Bulls they had 20 turnovers and 30 assists. Against the Thunder they had 20 turnovers and 35 assists, which was better, but in the win over the T’Wolves they had 24 turnovers and 32 assists and only forced 10 turnovers that entire game.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Chicago Bulls
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers are third in the NBA in assist per game with 26.4, and actually up to 27.8 over the last 10 games. But over the last 10 games they have turned the basketball over 192 times, averaging a full turnover more than their league-worst mark.

The Sixers lead the league in turnovers by one full giveaway per game, many of which are coming in high-stress situations late in games. In the fourth quarter, only Atlanta has as many turnovers as the Sixers, and the Hawks have won just seven games all season.

Whenever the conversation of turnovers comes up, people defend the Sixers by saying ‘the Warriors are one of the top turnover teams in the league and they’re awesome!” True, they do average the fourth-most turnovers in the NBA and are 24-6. The Rockets also turn the ball over a lot — 11th in the league — and they’re 25-4. But the other nine teams with the most turnovers in the NBA? None are better than 16-14 on the season and six, including the Sixers, are under .500.

Both Golden State and Houston rain buckets, averaging more than 115 points per game. Golden State is shooting 51.1 percent from the field and 40 percent from three and are a plus 10.8.

Houston is shooting 47.1 percent overall and just 36.8 percent from three, but they take 43 three-pointers a game and are a plus 11.3.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Philadelphia 76ers
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers take 30 threes per game and are hitting 35. 3 percent. Overall, they’re shooting 45.7 percent and scoring 108.6 points per game. Even as the sixth-highest scoring team in the NBA, the Sixers aren’t scoring enough to withstand this many giveaways. The Sixers are a -0.6 on the season, and a -4.1 in the last 10. Of that, they’re a -2.3 in just the fourth quarters of those 10 games.

In the last five games, Robert Covington is shooting just 21.9 percent from three. In the fourth quarter of the last five games, JJ Redick is shooting 16.7 percent from three.

So why are the Sixers losing? They don’t value the basketball. They don’t protect the basketball. And while they do share the basketball, they are forcing bad, off-balance shots at key moments down the stretch.

Value the ball. Share the ball. Protect the ball. For a young team, it doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.