Are the Sixers resigned to their fate?

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Are the Sixers resigned to their fate?

The game had just ended, along with the series and the season. Sixers owners Joshua Harris and Adam Aron were walking through the TD Bank North Garden in Boston when they ran into Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Rivers told them, after seven games, he was glad his guys wouldn’t have to fight their guys any longer. It was a compliment. Harris and Aron nodded in appreciation.

That was last year. It seems like much longer ago.

The Celtics came to Philadelphia on Tuesday. This Boston team and this Sixers team are vague versions of the squads that battled during the playoffs last season. The Celtics were without Rajon Rondo. The Sixers were without a lot of things, including (but not limited to) hope.

The Celtics beat the Sixers, 109-101. It was the Sixers' ninth loss in their last 10 games.

“You’d think we would win that game,” Collins said, reading off numbers from the stat sheet.

The Sixers had seven players score in double figures. Jrue Holiday (18 points, 10 assists) and Thaddeus Young (19 points, 10 rebounds) both had double-doubles. The team posted 64 points in the paint, and Arnett Moultrie gave them a solid effort (19 minutes, 10 points). And they still lost. It has how the season has gone for the Sixers. Nothing works out even when it looks like it should.

Before the game, an out-of-town writer asked Doug Collins if he was worried about the way the season has gone and the way it might continue to deteriorate considering the brutal upcoming schedule. It was a fair question.

The Sixers (23-36) have 23 games remaining -- 15 of those (including 12 of the final 16) are on the road. During the slog, they must play at Atlanta, Miami, the L.A. Clippers, Denver, Utah, Atlanta again, Miami again, Brooklyn and Indiana. It is cause for concern.

Collins paused before answering. He didn’t seem to like the question or the attendant implication.

“Worry,” he replied, “is the greatest thief of joy.”

OK. But considering what’s ahead, the Sixers should be worried. In terms of worry stealing joy, the schedule should act as the Ocean’s Eleven crew -- it should heist all their joy right out from under them.

Collins’ needn’t worry, though. His guys don’t seemed worried, and they don’t appear to lack for joy. In the run-up to the Celtics game, several players were sitting around the locker room laughing about Swaggy P’s "Shaggy P." After the game, a couple of players laughed out loud just as the media entered the locker room. Another reporter watched the scene unfold, then remarked that the Sixers appeared in pretty good spirits for a team that’s only won 23 times.

Maybe the pressure -- to the extent that there was any on this team -- is off the Sixers now. The expectations placed upon them after acquiring Andrew Bynum have been lifted since the center has missed the entire season and recently said he isn’t sure that he’ll play at all this year. Between Bynum’s off-court saga and the team’s on-court struggles, the Sixers are so far from the playoffs that they’d need a high-powered telescope just to get a fuzzy glimpse. At some point, perhaps they looked around and accepted their situation.

After all, even Collins -- who has repeatedly said the Sixers will try to win every game the rest of the way despite the fact that losing would help them load up on precious ping pong balls -- entertained a question about potentially being excluded from the postseason.

“Anytime you miss the playoffs, it should hurt,” Collins allowed. “When anytime the season is over and you go home and you turn on the playoff games and you’re not part of it, that should be very painful. All the guys want to make the playoffs. There’s not a guy in our locker room that doesn’t want to be in the playoffs. Our guys, I feel badly for them, what they’ve had to go through this year with the injuries and everything like that has been very tough. We’ve lost Jrue for some games and Thad the games he missed I think we were 1-9. We lost Swaggy. We lost two starters. We traded away a lot.

"You know, the plans that we had this year for this season, we really haven’t been able to see that. There’s no excuses. Nobody is going to make any excuses for anybody. We just haven’t had a chance to see that. I think our guys have done a nice job fighting through that. They’ve given all they can give.”

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

BOX SCORE

SAN ANTONIO -- Stephen Curry scored 36 points as the Golden State Warriors closed out the Western Conference Final against the injury-ravaged San Antonio Spurs with a 129-115 victory Monday night, becoming the first team in league history to start the playoffs 12-0.

Golden State led by as many as 22 points in cruising to its third straight NBA Finals. The Warriors await a possible third straight championship matchup with Cleveland, which leads Boston 2-1 in the East finals.

"It's great to be one of the last two teams standing, we'll see how it goes," said Kevin Durant, who had 29 points and 12 rebounds.

San Antonio's only lead came on the opening possession when Manu Ginobili tossed in a left-handed scoop shot. The Spurs started Ginobili in what could be his final game with the team. The 39-year-old had maintained he will not ponder whether to retire or return until after the season.

Unsure if the beloved veteran will return, the crowd serenaded Ginobili with "Manu, Manu" chants as the game came to a close.

"An amazing competitor, even more fun playing against him," Durant said of Ginobili. "He was phenomenal this series."

Kyle Anderson scored 20 points to lead the Spurs, who were without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and David Lee. San Antonio didn't go down without a fight despite the injuries.

Anderson dove on the court for a loose ball that the Spurs had tipped away defensively, pushing the ball upcourt to Patty Mills who fed Ginobili for a 3-pointer that pulled San Antonio to 108-94 with 7 minutes remaining.

The effort made Spurs coach Gregg Popovich smile and clap at times, but the Warriors' depth and talent proved too much for short-handed San Antonio.

Golden State shot 56 percent and were 14 for 39 on 3-pointers.

Draymond Green had 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Warriors.

Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge closed out a disappointing series with his second eight-point effort against the Warriors.

Ginobili finished with 15 points in 32 minutes.

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

With the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery behind us, there appears to be a consensus on the first two selections in next month's draft. The Celtics are expected to take Washington guard Markelle Fultz, and it would be a surprise if the Lakers passed on Lonzo Ball.

After that, all bets are off, and the Sixers will have plenty of options at pick No. 3.

A popular choice has been Kansas' Josh Jackson, and with good reason. The 6-foot-8 guard was an All-Big 12 first-team selection in his lone season with the Jayhawks, averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Others have pointed to Kentucky sharpshooter Malik Monk, who would fill an obvious need. Monk consistently has shown the ability to pull up without hesitation. He shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 19.8 points per game to lead the Wildcats.

There is a strong case to be made, however, that Duke forward Jayson Tatum will be the most talented player remaining on the board when it is the Sixers' turn to pick. 

As a basketball beat writer for The Duke Chronicle, I had the opportunity to watch Tatum play up close and in-person for much of the season, seeing him at his best and his worst.

A quick rise
After coming to Durham, North Carolina as one of the key pieces of the Blue Devils' top-ranked recruiting class, Tatum suffered a left foot sprain during a preseason practice that kept him out of action until early December. 

But even with what appeared to be a breakout performance against then-No. 24 Florida in early December, he struggled to find a rhythm throughout the first half of the season. Tatum shot only 30 percent from three-point range in his first 13 games.

When the Blue Devils were shocked at home by ACC bottom-feeder NC State Jan. 23, I was quick to call out the first-year player — he was not cutting it on the defensive end, and offensively, Tatum had yet to prove himself as a consistent shooting threat.

Down the stretch, however, no freshman came on stronger than Tatum. He scored 28 points on 6 of 7 shooting from distance against Virginia in February, averaged 22 points in four ACC Tournament wins in March, and notched a double-double in his first career NCAA Tournament game.

Whatever questions scouts have about Tatum's potential, he has already shown an ability to develop in a short period of time. Even if Tatum takes time to develop as an NBA player, it probably won't take all that long as the Sixers continue their rebuild.

Cool customer
In a deep ACC, Tatum was one of just two first-year players to earn all-conference honors, picking up a third-team spot in early March. He was also second in ACC Freshman of the Year voting behind NC State's Dennis Smith.

Tatum was a consistent performer at the charity stripe — unlike Jackson, who shot just 56.6 percent from the line. Tatum hit on 118 of 139 free throw attempts (84.9 percent) and has the body to get to the line at will with strong drives to the rim.

Although the Sixers have budding stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they lack a true end-of-game threat who can score both inside and out. Tatum's improving outside shot combined with a powerful inside game could give the Sixers an option that will stretch opposing defenses.

Defensive concerns
As has been the case with a few recent young Duke prospects (e.g. Brandon Ingram, Jabari Parker), Tatum at times struggled on defense. As Sixers fans know all too well, Jahlil Okafor has the same problem. The former Blue Devil standout led Duke in scoring during his lone collegiate season but wasn't a major factor on defense and has been even worse with the Sixers, ranking 324th of 486 NBA players in defensive win shares last season.

Tatum's numbers suggest he has potential to be a better defender than many might expect. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Tatum had a 3.2 block percentage and a 2.3 steal percentage — an uncommon combination. He helped Duke limit North Carolina's Justin Jackson to only 6 for 22 shooting in an ACC Tournament semifinal matchup.

Where Tatum needs to grow is guarding away from the ball. He often found himself losing his man on back cuts and long possessions in the half court.

With the Sixers, the 6-foot-8 Tatum potentially could be the shortest member of a lineup that would feature the 6-foot-9 Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Simmons at 6-foot-10, and the 7-foot Embiid in the middle. Although he will likely need to improve his quickness, Tatum has the size to overwhelm smaller guards and the strength — weighing in at 205 pounds — to match up with most small forwards in the league.

Tatum vs. Jackson
Tatum and Jackson are comparable players in most respects. The two were right next to one another in the ESPN's Class of 2016 rankings behind Harry Giles and put up nearly identical numbers on the offensive end.

Both are considered top-five picks, but the 19-year-old Tatum is younger by more than a year and has room to grow physically. And unlike Jackson, he does not carry the baggage of a criminal property damage misdemeanor from December.

Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel told 97.5 The Fanatic last week that Tatum is "one of the most talented, most gifted offensive guys" he has ever seen. 

Agreed.