SAN ANTONIO -- When the schedule came out in July and the Sixers were slated to play eight straight road games, seven against the Western Conference, it looked like a tough enough swing, even without knowing exactly where those teams would be five months later.
Then the five months passed, and the Sixers, still without Andrew Bynum, ended up against six teams with above .500 records, three of whom led their division. The two teams below .500 were the Phoenix Suns, to whom the Sixers lost, and the mighty Los Angeles Lakers.
The Spurs beat the Sixers, 109-86, Saturday, as the Sixers had but one lead, 2-0, and then found themselves trailing the rest of the way (see Instant Replay).
Since winning the NBA championship in the lockout-shortened 1999 season, the Spurs have won no less than 50 games in a season, including last year, when the season was only 66 games long.
Gregg Popovich is a brilliant coach and he has three core guys that have been with him through thick and thin, Doug Collins said, referencing Spurs veterans Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. And if you notice what they have done, they always changed the pieces around them, but those three and Pop are always there together. That is stability and Pop would be the first to tell you how blessed they have been to have that group, but the job he has done - hes won four championships and that doesnt happen by accident.
It is no accident that the Sixers struggled to keep up with the likes of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, who combined to score 55 of the teams 109 points with Duncan and Parker sitting the entire fourth quarter. Ginobili played just three of the final 12 minutes.
When you look at the last 10-12 years and a team like the New England Patriots and San Antonio Spurs -- those two teams have been good models for what it is all about to build a team. Collins said. They are fortunate that those three guys have stayed healthy for the most part. They have a great coach, a great owner, and they dont panic.
Its understandable that Collins would have an appreciation for what the Spurs have accomplished. He has been around the game long enough to know that sustained success is difficult thanks to free agency and the modern economics of sports. But his players, while disappointed to go home with a 2-6 record on their road trip and a 15-20 overall, saw an opponent in San Antonio to look at, study and mimic.
You absorb it. You see the way they run their offense, the efficiency and unselfishness they play with at both ends of the floor, Spencer Hawes said. On offense, they always make the extra pass. On defense, they are always covering for one another. If someone gets beat, there are two guys there to help, and then they figure out the rest afterwards, so I think there is a lot we can learn from a team like that.
Hawes led the Sixers in scoring with 22 points on 10-for-13 shooting from the floor. He also took four stitches above his left eye after a late fourth-quarter hit from his own teammate, Maalik Wayns.
Jrue Holiday, who finished with 11 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists, spent the final nine minutes on the bench after the game was out of reach, just watching how the Spurs operated.
Just the way they execute, defensively or offensively, Holiday said. When I was on the bench and I saw them run a play, and I said, 'They must practice that pass. They make this blind pass to the other side for a three.' And they make it look so easy the way they execute, and because they have so many veterans on the team it definitely helps out the younger guys.
And there in lies the problem: little comes easy to the Sixers, especially against the upper-echelon teams with established stars. But the Sixers are a team that plays hard and wants to get better.
Our guys played hard every single night, Collins said. I wont let them be discouraged.
I have never experienced a road trip like this, Holiday said. "We had three back-to-backs in a row and we played some of the best teams in the league and before that we started off with Brooklyn. It was tough, but as a team we grew from it.
You saw tonight, it wasnt the effort. The effort was there, Holiday continued. It was fatigue and playing against really good teams, but we were fighting our hearts out every game.
The unfortunate part of Holidays statement is that there is no column in the standings for being in games or having a chance to win.
For the Sixers, the season is 35 games in, and the time is right around the corner, according to Hawes, to grasp an opportunity and run with it.
Just to see it, live it, go through it and gain that confidence of how to finish out games, Hawes said of the need to find success in the fourth quarter, as opposed to coming up short, as the Sixers have in recent games. Sometimes that is the catalyst and all it takes.