Sixers have to be better on the boards if they plan to rebound way up the East standings

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PHILADELPHIA — Not having Ben Simmons this season has impacted the 76ers significantly at the defensive end.

Simmons, the runner-up for NBA Defensive Player of the Year last season, typically defended the opposition's best guard or wing player.

In terms of defensive rating, the Sixers are 12th in the 30-team NBA this season, allowing 109 points per 100 possessions. A year ago, they were second to the Lakers at 107 per 100.

Sixers center Joel Embiid is fouled by the Magic's Wendell Carter Jr. while going for a rebound.
Sixers center Joel Embiid is fouled by the Magic's Wendell Carter Jr. while going for a rebound.

It hasn't helped that guard Matisse Thybulle, who was a second-team All-NBA defensive selection last season, has missed 14 of the Sixers' 47 games this year due to injury or COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

Another area that Simmons' absence has clearly affected is rebounding.

Just past the halfway point of the 2021-22 season, the Sixers are last in rebounding (42.3 per game) and 27th in rebounding differential (-2.8) after finishing tied for 10th in rebounding a year ago (45.1), as well as ninth in differential (+2.1). That is quite a drop-off and has factored into some of their close losses.

The primary reason is the Sixers went from the 6-foot-10 Simmons in the starting lineup to the 6-2 Tyrese Maxey alongside 6-1 Seth Curry in the backcourt.

"With Ben as one of the players on the floor, you're a big team," said Sixers coach Doc Rivers on Tuesday. "This year, we're not. We have a really small backcourt to start off with. You can make a case we're pretty small (at the) 1, 2 and 3 (positions), in some cases."

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While the rebounding numbers for star center Joel Embiid, power forward Tobias Harris and backup center Andre Drummond (compared to Dwight Howard a year ago) are similar to those in 2020-21, the difference essentially is Simmons' 8 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, vs. Maxey's 3.5 per 36 this year.

The solution is that there must be a collective emphasis by everybody on the floor to hit the boards in an effort to overcome the Sixers' lack of size with the starters.

"It's an issue," Rivers said. "We talk about it. We're starting to gang rebound. The guards are starting to get it – they're not going to (always) get the rebound, but they can keep the ball alive. And that's something we haven't been doing well all year, but now you're starting to see it."

Tuesday's come-from-behind 117-107 victory over the shorthanded Pelicans gave the Sixers a 28-19 record, four games behind their 32-15 mark at the same point a year ago on the way to the best record in the Eastern Conference (49-23).

Embiid is handling the bulk of the offense, averaging 42.5 points while the Sixers went 3-1 over the past four games heading into Thursday's home meeting with LeBron James and the Lakers.

Doing a better job rebounding, as well as making good decisions with the ball, stopping dribble penetration and improving an 11-10 record at the Wells Fargo Center, is essential for the Sixers if they plan on moving up the standings and securing homecourt advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs. They went into Wednesday sixth in the East, though just two games behind the conference-leading Heat.

The Sixers held a 44-39 edge on the glass Tuesday, with Embiid grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds and Harris adding 11. That is a step in the right direction, but the guards and wings have to be more involved, especially on the defensive boards.

"Rebounding has been a key for us this year, especially (against teams like the Pelicans)," said Harris, who had 33 points on 13-for-19 shooting to complement Embiid's third 40-point outing in four games.

"They went with two 'bigs' at the end of the game to try to beat us up on the glass. We know that we have to rebound – it's a collective effort. We just got to be physical out there. Any time we can get out there and have all the guys chip in and grab some rebounds, that's key for us."

Rivers has also been stressing that the Sixers must be quicker to the ball.

"I don't know how many games we show film where it just feels the ball is rolling on the floor, then the other team keeps getting it," Rivers said. "We have to have better pursuit."

Tom Moore: tmoore@couriertimes; @TomMoorePhilly

This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: For Sixers to rebound up East standings, they must be better on glass