With 5:33 left in Wednesday nights game it appeared as if the Sixers had made that one late defensive stand in order to mount a final rally against the Toronto Raptors. The defense forced Andrea Bargnani to chuck up a 26-footer with the shot clock winding down that bounced off the back of the rim and sent the Sixers running out on the wings ready to run the break.
But just before the Sixers could secure the rebound, the Raptors Ed Davis poked the ball free, reset the offense and hit Bargnani for an easy 14-footer. Just like that the Raptors lead went to double digits and any hope for a Sixers comeback was squashed for good.
Could it be that the Sixers chances to win the Atlantic Division have trickled away like a rebound that tipped away?
With the 99-78 loss at the Wells Fargo Center (see Lynam's Instant Replay), the Sixers chances to win their first division crown since 2001 got a little bit more difficult. With 12 games left in the regular season, the Sixers (29-25) are clinging to the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, 1 games behind the Celtics in the Atlantic. However, nine of the Sixers last 11 games will be played on the road, including the last five.
To complicate matters a bit, the Sixers lead over the Knicks in the eighth and final playoff spot is down to two games, while the Milwaukee Bucks, just on the outside and looking in, are three games behind Philly.
In other words, if the Sixers are going to win the division to avoid facing Miami or Chicago in the first round of the playoffs or worse, getting bounced out they better start winning games
Yet when Davis stole the rebound to end the Sixers chances on Wednesday night, all coach Doug Collins could do is sit back on his chair on the sidelines, cross his legs and put his hands behind his head as if he were relaxing at home in front of the tube.
The only difference was he couldnt change the channel and wipe away what was playing before him on Wednesday night.
For whatever reason, the Sixers looked terrible on Wednesday night. Whether it was because of the tough game in Miami on Tuesday night or a season in which games seemingly come right on top of each other, the Sixers are stuck and they cant seem to stop the bleeding. Worse, Collins isnt sure what to do about the rut his team has wiggled itself into, or, if he has, he wasnt telling anyone after the latest loss.
I really dont have anything to say, Collins said to kick off his post-mortem. I dont know what to say, so Ill take questions.
Of course the question everyone has is just how do the Sixers right the ship? How does a team that began the season with a 20-9 record lose a game to a 19-win team because it scored 22 points in the second half and shot 3 for 20 for seven points in the final quarter?
Oh yes, you read that correctly. The Sixers scored seven points in the fourth quarter by shooting 3 for 20. They missed 13 straight field goal attempts from the 9:15 mark to the 37.8 mark of the final quarter and finished the game shooting 1 for 16.
The seven points in a quarter is the record for futility in the Wells Fargo Center, which opened for the 1996-97 season.
This came after the Sixers shot 58.1 percent and committed just two turnovers during the first half. Still, even though the Sixers played well offensively during the first two quarters, Collins knew his team was leaking oil. After all, they shot so well and held onto the ball, yet led by just one point.
The defense that had been the Sixers hallmark this season had deserted them on Wednesday night. Bargnani led all scorers with 24 points, Davis snagged 14 boards and point guard Jose Calderon dished out 14 assists. Meanwhile, the Sixers got just 18 points from their bench, and had just eight fast-break and second-chance points.
What used to be good for us, our defense, we have not been able to stop people for whatever reason, Collins said. I dont know if its mental fatigue, physical fatigue I dont know. Im sitting here trying to find the answers, too.
Collins said his rotation, which is down to eight players these days, is not the problem. His players minutes have remained consistent even though some of the production is down. Still, Collins played rookies Nik Vucevic and Lavoy Allen sparingly in the last three games even though both players were key components to the early season success.
Meanwhile, newcomer Sam Young has not played significant stretches since arriving at the trade deadline. Young started for Memphis in the playoffs last season, but he cant get off the bench for the Sixers because Collins doesnt like to have a rotation with six perimeter players.
Its hard for me to play six perimeter guys, it just is, Collins explained. Youd love to have a six-man perimeter rotation, with five guys and then that sixth guy could give you minutes when you need it. And thats what I feel bad about with Sam because I know Sam could play for us. But we have our three guys and then we come in with Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks and that eats up so many minutes.Next up for the Sixers are Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic on Saturday night. In the meantime, while Collins searches for answers, veteran Elton Brand may have a remedy of his own. In fact, Brand said there is always the option of getting angry, flipping over tables and having a team meeting.
Its as simple as sticking with it and playing hard and finding away, Brand said.
As for a meeting, it may be that time.
We might have to address everything, Brand said.
E-mail John R. Finger at email@example.com.