These are the dog days of the NBA season, Sixers head coach Doug Collins said immediately after his team suffered a 124-101 loss to the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).
Need proof? Just take a look at Jrue Holiday's stat line from Wednesday night.
Need more? Check out what Holiday did on Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
Two games, two assists, six turnovers and 15 missed shots in 55 minutes.
Oh yes, these are the dog days indeed.
“I’m tired,” Holiday said. “There’s a lot of fatigue and I try to take care of my body as best as possible, but that’s not really an excuse.”
Holiday is struggling as the Sixers limp to the end of a disappointing season. Wednesday's defeat dropped them to 31-47 with four games to go. But Holiday's struggles are not appearing seemingly out of nowhere. A glance at the season-long stat sheet shows that the Sixers' All-Star point guard had been trending downward for a few weeks.
The culprit? Too many minutes, too many games and too much responsibility all thrown his way at once.
For Holiday, the season has been like he just learned how to doggy paddle and was immediately thrown into the deep end.
“Imagine if we were a playoff team right now and getting ready to go into the playoffs,” Collins said. “That’s what I talked about with the growth. The added minutes, added responsibility, an All-Star -- every time you go out there to play now [opposing players get ready].”
But that's the way it's going to be for a player the Sixers have gone all-in on. Opening night Holiday got a four-year contract extension. With Thad Young, the Sixers have two pieces of the jigsaw puzzle they have been putting together for the past decade.
But at 22, Holiday has been thrust into the limelight quickly. Given that he plays the most demanding position on the floor, the candle has burned at both ends.
It's not that Holiday can't handle it. He just didn't have enough help.
Obviously, Andrew Bynum was supposed to provide the help to boost the Sixers into the elite of the Eastern Conference. Obviously, that never happened.
Bynum would have been pretty helpful on the boards against the bruising Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night when they out-rebounded the Sixers by 33 with Reggie Evans grabbing 24 boards.
Bynum also would have been a great deterrent to the Hawks' fastbreak, too. Without the reinforcements, the Hawks scored 25 fastbreak points, forced 15 turnovers and notched eight steals.
Holiday was charged with five of those 15 turnovers.
“We so used to value the ball,” Collins said. “We led the league last year in fewest turnovers. Too many times I look down and I see too many points off turnovers. We were minus-12 [in points off turnovers] tonight. If we’re down in that stat, chances are we’re not going to win the game. That’s a real barometer for our team.”
The Sixers have had a small margin for error all season long. As such, the increased turnovers required speed and the Sixers haven't had it this year. Where other teams could beat them in transition for dunks and kick-out threes, that element was missing this year for Collins' crew.
“One of the things we’ve missed this year is speed on the wings,” Collins said.
They did have hustle an energy from Young, who finished the game with 28 points on 14-for-20 shooting. Young scored 22 points during the first half for a Sixers' season best and also helped the team build an early eight-point lead.
But it didn't last no matter how hard Young worked.
“I wanted to come out and show that I had energy and I’m still trying to win games,” Young said. “I’m focused finishing the season the right way and continue playing as hard as I can.”
The Sixers return to action on Friday night when they travel to Washington to face the Wizards. After that, the Sixers return home for the last game of the year at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday against Cleveland.
The season wraps up with a game in Detroit on Monday and the finale in Indianapolis next Wednesday.