DENVER – The stunned silence in the locker room spoke louder than words ever could.
What do you say in response to blowing an 18-point lead en route to losing a game in which you self-destructed?
The events of the night were easy to pinpoint.
"We didn't run our plays, didn't get stops, rebounds," 76ers point guard Ben Simmons said. "It just came down to playing hard."
That was late Thursday night, following the Sixers' 114-110 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center. But it might as well have been Nov. 18 or Dec. 21 or any of their losses after holding sizable leads.
On Nov. 18, the Sixers blew a 24-point halftime lead en route to losing, 124-116, to the Golden State Warriors at the Wells Fargo Center. Then they surrendered a 22-point third-quarter advantage before suffering a 114-109 home loss to the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 21.
Losing that way has become their signature move. The Sixers held onto an 11-point fourth-quarter lead en route to defeating the Denver Nuggets, 107-102, Saturday at the Pepsi Center. However, they have lost six games in which they led by 11 points or more. Three of those happened in their previous five games.
To be accurate, the Sixers (16-19) have been struggling to maintain any type of lead.
Of their eight losses from Dec. 9 to Thursday, they had six games in which they surrendered leads of at least five points. They had leads of five, eight, nine, seven, six, and 14 points. In another setback during that stretch – 119-117 in triple overtime to Oklahoma City – the Sixers blew a five-point advantage in the first overtime.
So what's behind these breakdowns? It is a talent gap? Lack of preparation? Miscues?
Whatever the problem is, it seems to be something the Sixers can't solve.
They keep imploding, especially with the game on the line. They'll close out a couple of games like they did on Saturday. On that night, they benefited from a balanced attack and the Nuggets (19-17) shooting 11-for-41 in the second half.
Once folks think the problem is corrected, the Sixers will revert to the team that can't hold a lead.
"We're frustrated not just in losing, but how we are losing," shooting guard JJ Redick said after Thursday's loss. "But we'll turn it around."
The main problem is they haven't been able to turn it around.
It's as if they are following a script.
The Sixers get a lead, miss three-pointers early in possessions, commit unforced turnovers, hack their opponents, and watch them come back.
Long-range shooting woes, turnovers, and untimely fouls have been their biggest problems.
On the surface, it often appears that the Sixers aren't aware of their circumstances. With a late lead, they should run time off the clock and feed the ball to center Joel Embiid. Instead, the Sixers usually continue to push tempo and settle for three-pointers early in the shot clock.
One problem: They were tied for 20th in the league in three-point shooting (35.4 percent) with the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City, and Los Angeles Clippers heading into Saturday night.
Yet there's a reason the Sixers prefer to play with pace.
"Our sickness, and this is true, is from about the six- or seven-second mark into a shot clock into about 14," coach Brett Brown said. "We're pretty good in about the first three or four seconds. But there's a window of that clock which produces the most turnovers. It produces the area where we are the least efficient."
Embiid commits his share of turnovers. His 4.1 turnovers a game are slightly ahead of the 3.9 that Simmons produces entering Saturday night.
As a team, the Sixers led the league in turnovers at 17.6 per game.
"We all understand that it's been toxic," Brown said of the turnovers. "We are getting better, and the guys have pride in getting better."
But the Sixers always make about five or six passes a game they would like to take back. They're often intercepted and lead to breakaway baskets.
Sending opponents to the foul line has also factored into their meltdowns. Opposing teams were attempting a league-most 27.4 foul shots per game. On Thursday, the Blazers attempted 47.
This all seems simple to resolve.
You think: All the Sixers have to do is take better care of the ball, take and make better three-point shots, and stay out of foul trouble. But as much as they've made those things a priority, the sickness persists.