The 76ers were trending upward in every way possible.
They won 10 games in January, the same amount as they compiled all of last season.
They featured potential Rookie of the Year Joel Embiid, who was dazzling the fan base with an array of offensive moves and defensive prowess on a nightly basis.
They seemed to capture the city, which desperately needs a franchise to cling to given the current state of the professional sports landscape.
After three seasons of tanking and just 47 wins, this was a refreshing change. There was excitement surrounding the Sixers and the buzz was evident inside the Wells Fargo Center.
Somewhere along the way, however, the Sixers got lost.
Their momentum stalled and fans are once again becoming frustrated.
Embiid missed his 11th straight game Wednesday night in an eight-point loss at Boston. A bone bruise — actually a partially torn meniscus as it turns out — has “The Process” sidelined indefinitely. There doesn’t appear to be an exact timetable for Embiid’s return and that’s frustrating considering he has already missed two full seasons.
While injured, Embiid was seen dancing at a Meek Mill concert. Normally, that would be fine. Embiid is a young pro athlete who’s entitled to a personal life. When your franchise cornerstone has a knee injury, it’s just a bad public image.
Prized No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons has yet to practice 5-on-5. Coach Brett Brown has said that Simmons needs at least five 5-on-5 practices before he’ll be ready to play in a regular season game. In other words, it doesn’t look as if Simmons is close. Are the Sixers being too cautious? Fans are clamoring to see Embiid and Simmons together on the court. Waiting until next season seems to be overcautious.
Now comes the Jahlil Okafor saga. The former No. 3 overall pick from Duke actually sat out because of trade rumors. Players’ names get tossed around all the time at the trade deadline. Nothing new here. Okafor returned to play at Boston, which is exactly what should be happening. Whether the Sixers trade the big man or not, they have to move forward.
The Sixers had won three straight games before the setback against the Celtics, dropping them to 21-35 and five-and-a-half games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Through the soap opera, Brown continues to be a marvelous teacher. Point guard T.J. McConnell is one of the most improved players in the league. Robert Covington, who recently was being booed for every missed shot by the fans, has learned to drive to the basket and become a solid defender. Nerlens Noel’s jump shot is steadily getting better. The players are scrapping and clawing every night and their energy is contagious.
But they need to regain the momentum they earned in January. Embiid and Simmons must play together.
The Sixers don’t play again until after the All-Star break when the Washington Wizards arrive. On Feb. 27, the Sixers will entertain the Golden State Warriors.
There’s still time to salvage the fourth season of the Brown era. The Sixers have plenty of assets in the offseason beginning with the draft.
The final third of the 2016-17 season is a crucial period. They can’t derail their progress.