Maybe the part about the 98-84 defeat that bothered Sixers coach Doug Collins the most was the seeming lack of effort from his players (see Instant Replay). Collins explained, when he was a player for the 76ers, he played until he was physically unable to do so.
But for the life of him, Collins can’t figure out why his players don’t see the season slipping away, and he let everyone know about it after the game (see story).
“I wish I knew. I really do. I gotta tell you. I'm sitting there,” Collins said after the loss to the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. “I gave my body to this franchise. I was never booed as a player. Never. I ran through my sneakers.”
Collins’s team was booed off the floor after the only thing the Sixers left out there were a ton of bricked shots and lots of opportunities to score for the opposition.
He said that it didn’t appear that his players were ready to go from the jump. Considering that the Sixers are still fighting for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the lack of effort is almost unfathomable.
“I looked out there to start the game and three guys weren't even sweating when we started the game. They're going to ease themselves into the game,” Collins said. “You’ve gotta get sweaty, you've gotta get ready to go.”
So at 22-33 with six straight losses and no cupcakes looming on the schedule, what can Collins do to get the team back on the correct path? Obviously it would help if center Andrew Bynum were able to play, but after 55 games and apparently just one practice session, the All-Star still hasn’t spoken to the media (see story) about when he plans to make his debut.
That is if a debut is even out there. One has to imagine that just the sight of Bynum at practice or on the bench (though he wasn’t on the bench for Tuesday’s game) has to be nothing more than a big tease for the Sixers’ players.
“You know guys, it's been hard,” Collins said. “I think there's a part of this group wondering, ‘Are you gonna play? Aren't you gonna play?’ And it's been a tough year.”
No, the Sixers have not seen their complete team out there this year, but then again, they haven’t performed too well lately. Collins was quick to point out after the defeat to the Magic that the Sixers dealt away All-Star Andre Iguodala, and their last two top draft picks in Nik Vucevic and Moe Harkless and do not have anyone they received in the deal playing for them.
But if the team doesn’t give an effort, it almost doesn’t matter who is out there. At one point during the third quarter of Tuesday’s loss, Collins went to his bench to sub in four different players.
What other choice did he have?
“Hey, you know what? They weren't getting it done,” Collins said. “What were we down, 17? We went from seven to 17. And I go back to [coach Hank Iba], that voice I always hear, ‘Hey, son, if you don't want to play, your substitute does. Give somebody else a chance.’ We did and we cut it to five. It wasn't anything other than getting some stops, push the ball, play with some aggression. Basketball is a simple sport. The game is usually going to go to the aggressor. That's just the way it is.”
As it turned out, a couple of former Sixers were quite aggressive. Vucevic scored 12 points and pulled down 19 rebounds, while Harkless scored 10 points on four shots and got the rest from the foul line. Boy, could the Sixers use a rebounder and someone with the ability to get to the foul line.
In other words, the Sixers dealt away three good players and got back nothing … at least nothing yet.
“We made a huge deal and we have nobody playing a part of that deal,” Collins said. “How many teams can give up Andre Iguodala, Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic and have nothing in return playing? That’s tough to overcome. That’s just the facts. I’m not looking for any outs. That’s a fact. Nik Vucevic had 19 rebounds tonight. Spencer [Hawes] had one, I think Lavoy [Allen] had two.”
Still, as Collins likes to point out, there is no player or team out there that will feel sorry for the Sixers. Right now, the Sixers are ripe for the picking and the Bulls, Warriors and Wizards are looking for an easy W.
The scouting tape won’t be difficult to decipher. The Sixers are at their most vulnerable at the start of quarters. Though trailing by five points at the half, the Sixers gave the Magic an 11-0 run to start the second half that morphed into a 14-2 streak. Later, the Magic made eight straight shots from the field to close out the third quarter and start the fourth.
The Sixers trailed by seven points to start the final quarter and were down by 21 points in a little more than four minutes.
What, if anything, can the coach do about that?
“Can I tell you something? If everybody looked inside themselves as much as I did, this world would be a CAT scan. OK?” Collins said. “I mean, believe me, there's not two days go by that I don't go to [team president] Rod [Thorn], I don't go to [general manager] Tony [DiLeo] -- 'what can I do? Can I do anything different? How can I be a better coach? How can I be a better leader? How can I help these guys?' Sometimes you've gotta help yourself. You know? Sometimes you’ve gotta help yourself. Youth is a very blaming thing.”
The loss didn’t sit well with veteran Thad Young, either. The longest tenured Sixer, Young has weathered a few rough seasons along the way and is just as disappointed as Collins with how the season has progressed.
Tuesday night, Young agreed with Collins in that the Sixers didn’t have much energy.
“I’m frustrated,” Young said. “I’m always frustrated when we lose games because my whole life I’ve been a winner. There’s been a time when I did lose games and that made me frustrated, too. That was when we were 27 and 50-something and I don’t ever want to be a part of that anymore. I want to win games and I’m going to put each and every bit of energy I have into the game.”
For now, Collins is hoping the loss to the Magic is as low as it gets. With the Bulls, Warriors, Wizards and Celtics looming on the schedule, it’s not going to get any easier.
“I sure hope it can’t get any worse than this, but I mean, if you look at our schedule, 12 of our last 14 are on the road and look at the home games we’re playing: Atlanta, Golden State. Every one of them is a playoff team,” Collins said. “I’ve always said, ‘Beat the team you’re supposed to beat and let’s see where you are against the others.’ And it seems like for us we’ve laid some eggs in here against some teams we’ve had a chance to beat and then we’ve played pretty well -- San Antonio, Memphis, Miami -- played well, but they were still better than us and beat us and that’s what you can’t do.”