A step toward worrisome

Minutes after Monday night's overtime loss to the Utah Jazz, 76ers coach Doug Collins used phrases like "concerned," and, "terrible," and "frustrated," and "not liking what I see." For so much of the game, the Sixers looked disinterested and disengaged. Their saving grace on this night was their swarming comeback in the final few minutes (Sixers were down 21 in the first half and 15 early in the fourth quarter) to take the lead with just over 1 minute remaining in regulation, an effort that ensured this wouldn't be the second blowout loss in three nights and also an effort that fended off the impending panic of, "What's wrong with the Sixers?!"

But what tonight's loss left us with is now two things: concern over the initial bland performance and concern over the team's inability, once again, to close out this game at the end. Jodie Meeks missed the second of two free throws, giving the Jazz possession with about 11 seconds left and facing only a two-point deficit. The Sixers then allowed perhaps the easiest bucket of the game, a little layup off of a curl cut by C.J. Miles with about 9 seconds left. Collins gave the ball to Andre Iguodala, who played very well in the fourth quarter, but missed what would have been the game-winning jumper at the buzzer. In overtime, Iguodala was not as effective and the Sixers played from behind the entire five minutes.

This morning at shoot around, both Collins and team president Rod Thorn addressed the players, both talking about how nothing as yet been achieved this season. It's in hand, it's there, but it's not yet theirs. Also, Thorn said he talked about going after the sixth seed and how the team isn't yet out of the running for the fifth seed. It felt like both guys -- Collins and Thorn -- weren't in the slightest concerned about Saturday's 28-point loss to the Miwaukee Bucks, nor should they have been concerned. But through the first three quarters tonight, the Sixers did not look like the team we've seen the last 55 games. They looked, quite frighteningly, like the team we saw the first 16 games.

Collins lit into his guys early and often. He thought they were playing soft, ambivalent, as if they felt they could now shift into cruise control and pick up victories. Collins reminded them that if they don't play hard, they're not a good team. End of story.

"I was very frustrated," Collins said. "I told our guys, early in the game, I said, 'I don’t even know why we have a walk thru if you’re just going to give the team 30 points in the first quarter ... if we don’t give great effort, we’re no good. We’re not going to go out there and Cadillac into a nice little win."

Added Collins: "I told our guys, ‘If you don’t play hard, I’m going to find somebody that will.’"

Moreso than any night this season, Collins was visible disappointed with his team's play and effort. He said the only difference in the fourth quarter was that they decided to start playing hard. That roaring comeback went a long way toward increasing confidence that the team's play the last few days is just a little dip due to scheduling and fatigue, nothing more, nothing that will threaten for the remaining 15 games of the regular season.

A few observations:

*Jrue Holiday was absolutely picked apart by Devin Harris. Holiday could not slow him down in transition, or even when Harris grabbed the inbounds pass after a made basket. Holiday got stripped by C.J. Watson at halfcourt in what was a crucial possession late in the game. Collins pulled him after that turnover, but reinsterted him only moments later. This seems to be the second such dip in Holiday's play this season (the other a few games before the all-star break) and the last time he responded well.

*Collins started the second half by using Iguodala as the point-forward. The Sixers immediaitely responded, opening the half with a nice run that made sure this game wouldn't turn into a blowout.

*Sixers had no answer for Utah's Al Jefferson. This guy always seems to kill them (he did last year at Minnesota, too). Marreese Speights tried to guard him, Spencer Hawes did, Elton Brand, even Tony Battie. When the opposition has a guy like Jefferson, the Sixers are behind the eight ball.

Injury update: In the locker room after the game, Brand had both hands and both knees wrapped in ice. The Sixers and Collins say Brand is totally fine, but this seems like something on which to keep an eye. Iguodala looked gimpy in the first half of the game, wearing a sleeve on his knee that we haven't seen before. After the game, he was on the training table getting evaluted. Later, the Sixers annonced he has right knee chondromalacia (irritation on the underside of the kneecap) and is listed as day-to-day.


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