As fun as it was to watch these Sixers for the first 25 games this year,
the last six have been pretty rough. Not historically bad or
anything—they're 2-4, but the four losses were all to good teams, and at
least one of them could have easily gone the other way—but nonetheless,
still the first really discouraging stretch of what has otherwise been a
fantastically promising season. After winning four of the first five
games of our Death March stretch, nobody can say that the Ballers
haven't beaten anyone good, but after losing four of six since, we can't
say they really deserve to be considered one of the elite teams either.
Much as we'd like to blame the recent cold streak on the condensed
season and general injuries, neither excuse really applies here. The
schedule has been rough, but no rougher than it's been for anyone
else—each of the team's four recent losses came after an off day, so
fatigue shouldn't have been a huge factor. And while obviously injuries
to some of our big man have hurt, especially the extended absence of
Spencer Hawes, it's actually been our guard play that's hurt us
recently—Friday night against Mavs, the Sixers' five primary perimeter
players went a combined 12-47, with Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks failing
to convert a single field goal.
So what to attribute the team's recent struggles to? Well, probably a
combination of natural factors—the schedule got tougher, scouting on the
Sixers got better, other teams (many of whom had to integrate far many
more new pieces than the Sixers) finally started to gel, and Philly was
probably due for a little regression to the mean after playing so out of
their heads in the season's first 25 games. For the record, they're not
alone in their current malaise—the Pacers, Nuggets and Blazers, all
teams that (like the Sixers) jumped out to hot starts thanks to their
deep rosters and young legs, have also struggled recently, going a
combined 12-19 for the month of February.
In any event, the Sixers get a chance to turn things around tonight in
Minnesota against a tough and trendy Timberwolves team. The Wolves,
anchored by the highlight-reel passing of rookie point guard Ricky Rubio
and the grind-it-out stat-stuffing of power forward Kevin Love, have
become the toast of the NBA blogosphere this season, a fun, young team
that, while not quite on the level of the Sixers and company
record-wise, have improved greatly this year, starting 15-16 and
threatening to give Minnesota their first winning season since 2005.
Rebounding will obviously be a key against the 'Pack, with the size and
strength of the Wolves front line of Love and surging second-year big
Nikola Pekovic a danger to muscle the Sixers off the boards completely.
7:00 tip from the Target Center. The doldrums of recent weeks are
explainable, if not necessarily excusable, but if we want to stay ahead
of the improving Celtics and the Linsane Knicks in the Atlantic
Division—and secure home-court advantage in the first round—we need to
start winning games again, pure and simple. Three more games before the
All-Star Break, let's win some of 'em, huh?