);
Philadelphia 76ers

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid remain unconcerned about perceived on-court chemistry issues

Situated just a few podiums away at All-Star weekend media day at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were being asked the same question: Is there concern with the fit between the All-Star duo?

Both Embiid and Simmons made it abundantly clear - the concern is not present inside the Philadelphia 76ers locker room.

"I think it's BS because when you look at the last couple years, the last two years that we've been playing together, it's not a problem," Embiid said.

"This year it's only been a problem because our offense has struggled. It's definitely going to be better after the All-Star break. I mean, just look at the last two years, what we've been able to do. I think it can work, and it's going to work."

To Embiid's point, the Philadelphia 76ers have struggled this season with their two All-Stars on the court. According to NBA.com, they're averaging 104.7 points per 100 possessions with Embiid and Simmons in the lineup, a rate equivalent to the second-worst offence in the league.

With Embiid on the court without Simmons, their offensive rating improves slightly (+0.9) but their defensive rating improves dramatically (+8.6).

With Simmons on the court without Embiid, the opposite happens - their offensive rating improves dramatically (+4.9) while their defensive rating gets worse (-3.7).

Either way, the 76ers have had a better net rating when one of the All-Stars has been on the court without the other to this point of the season.

That wasn't the case in either 2017-18 or 2018-19. The 76ers outscored opponents by a whopping 15.5 points per 100 possessions in the minutes they shared in their first together, followed by 7.6 points per 100 possessions last season.

"Who are these people?" Simmons quipped when asked about the people questioning the duo's fit, before continuing on.

"It takes time, not everything is supposed to be perfect, not everything works straight away but we are two different people trying to figure it out. I love playing with Joel, I think he's an amazing talent and I've got a lot of respect for his game and I know he feels the same way about me so as long as we continue to strive to go the right way I think we'll be fine."

So can they turn it around?

That's the big question the 76ers face heading into the final stretch of the regular season.

Through 55 games, they have a 34-21 record, putting them behind the Milwaukee Bucks (46-8), Toronto Raptors (40-15), Boston Celtics (38-16) and Miami Heat (35-19) in the Eastern Conference. They've dominated at home (25-2), but they have the same road record as the New York Knicks (9-19), a team that is headed towards the lottery.

In the last game before the All-Star break, Brett Brown tinkered with his starting lineup, bringing Al Horford off the bench, while inserting Furkan Korkmaz and his quick trigger from the perimeter.

Shooting 39.2 percent from the outside on five attempts per game, the 22-year-old from Turkey has been on fire in February, posting games of 34 points and 31 points prior to his insertion into the starting lineup.

The move itself came as a shock, with Horford starting in every regular-season game he had played in since November 2007 - his rookie season.

"I love him, Al's the best. He's been such a good leader and vet to us, we are blessed to have him. Just the way he carries himself, he's a true pro," Simmons said of Horford.

Despite the Sixers struggles on the road, Simmons isn't too concerned with a potentially treacherous path through the Eastern Conference playoffs.

"It's tough to tell during the regular season," Simmons responded when asked about matchups in the East.

Given the Sixers' struggles away from Wells Fargo Center, a first-round series without home-court advantage against Boston, Miami or Toronto would seemingly put them in danger of being eliminated in the first round.

Offensive fit aside, this iteration of Brett Brown's Sixers was put together with defence in mind, and entering the break they sit fourth in the league for defensive rating (106.1). For now, at least, the Sixers will continue to preach confidence that when the games matter, their size and physicality will overwhelm their opposition.

"The playoffs are so much different, it's more physical, and it's a different style of play. I'm looking forward to getting to the playoffs but we are a while from that," Simmons said.

The playoffs are a while away, but unless the Simmons and Embiid can figure out their on-court issues, the questions will continue to mount.

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