Slumping 76ers aim to get well against Hornets

The Philadelphia 76ers, entering a Friday home game against the struggling Charlotte Hornets, are searching for ways to win games without reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid.

Since Embiid went down with a left knee injury that necessitated surgery, the Sixers are 4-8.

At this rate, they might wind up out of the top six spots in the Eastern Conference and compete in the postseason play-in tournament. Philadelphia is currently tied with the Orlando Magic and the Indiana Pacers for the fifth, sixth and seventh positions.

Embiid is holding out hope for a potential return before the end of the regular season.

“That’s the plan,” he said Thursday. “Obviously everything has to go right, as far as getting healthy and being as close as I’m supposed to be. But yeah, that’s the plan.”

In their latest game without the star big man, the Sixers were pummeled 117-99 by the host Boston Celtics on Tuesday.

Tyrese Maxey scored 32 points to pace Philadelphia. Tobias Harris had 13 points but shot just 5-for-19. Harris has struggled mightily on the offensive end over the past four games, averaging 10.8 points on 32.1 percent shooting, after rebounding from an illness and an ankle injury.

“I want him to just let it come to him a little bit and I certainly want him to do other things,” Sixers coach Nick Nurse said of Harris finding his rhythm. “You still gotta defend and rebound and draw offense for other people, set screens and make sure it’s not, like, totally wrapped up in trying to get off the slump. I think he’s doing that.”

Aside from Embiid, the Sixers also will be without De’Anthony Melton. After dealing with a spine injury, Melton returned for three games, but he tweaked his back against the Celtics and was ruled out for the Hornets game.

The reeling Hornets will arrive in Philadelphia after consecutive losses to the Bucks — 123-85 on Tuesday in Milwaukee and 111-99 on Thursday in Charlotte.

In the latest defeat, rookie Brandon Miller scored 21 points to lead the Hornets, and Grant Williams added 17. Miles Bridges had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Hornets have lost three of their past four games, failing to score 100 points in all four contests. They ranked 28th out of the 30 NBA teams with an average of 107.5 points per game.

Charlotte also rates just 24th on defense, allowing 118.1 points per contest.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford said after the Thursday loss, “We gave up drives where we just had wrong stances, wrong angles and no help. Guys should not be blowing by us like they were.”

At the other end of the floor, the Hornets launched 39 shots from 3-point range and made 12 of them. The amount of long-range attempts displeased Clifford.

“The ball’s got to hit the paint,” Clifford said. “We’re not executing well enough and not playing with enough force or purpose. We don’t take bad shots, but we take OK shots. We’ve got to get really good shots. When we did, we were efficient.”

The Hornets remain without LaMelo Ball, who hasn’t played since Jan. 26 due to an ankle injury.

“He’s doing the same stuff now he was doing two weeks ago. He does whatever they allow him to do,” Clifford said of Ball. “He wants to be back, just doesn’t feel healthy enough and people aren’t comfortable enough that he should play.”