A Monday always feels like a good day to take a step back and get the lay of the land. And what is the lay of the land with the Sixers? They're 5-8 after a pretty easy opening schedule. Starting tomorrow at the Washington Wizards, the Sixers begin a pretty legit stretch of games that could very easily leave them reeling. Let's take a look at it: At the Washington Wizards (3-9), at the Boston Celtics, vs. the Atlanta Hawks, at the San Antonio Spurs, at the Dallas Mavericks, at the Oklahoma City Thunder, at the Charlotte Bobcats.
There are some definite winnable games in there, but it's also a very competitive stretch with 4 of the 7 games against some of the NBA's best teams (I'm still considering the Spurs one of the best teams even though their record is a little weak so far). We know that Sixers coach Eddie Jordan is not looking at this stretch as a whole, because he's the head coach and that's his job to "take it one game at a time", but we can look at this stretch as a whole. When it's over, the Sixers will be 20 games into their season. That's a quarter through. It'll be done being "too early to tell." And if you look at that stretch of games, it's not inconceivable to think they'll come back from Charlotte with a 7-13 record, possibly even worse considering the Wizards are a talented team and the Bobcats nearly stole one at the Wachovia Center last week.
Maybe I was too positive while watching the Cleveland Cavaliers game on Saturday. Maybe because Cleveland looked like it was going to completely dominate (the game started 20-4), that I was overly impressed with the Sixers ability to come back and stay in the game until the end of the fourth quarter. Anyone watching knew that, more than likely, the Cavaliers were going to win the game. Regardless of the 6-point lead the Sixers built, you knew Cleveland would be too much at the end of the game. Who on the Sixers was going to stop LeBron James down the stretch? Regardless, after the game, you started hearing the same things you heard after other losses: We played hard, we just didn't make shots down the stretch. And walking away from that, I realized that, even with the addition of Jason Kapono, that's really the issue here again. The Sixers struggle to consistently make shots.
And in reading the comments after a recent story -- the one in which Iguodala said it's a positive because they have yet to all play well together in a game -- one of the comments really made a lot of sense. It's not really possible to expect, or wait for, a game when you're all at the top of your game. Because how often will that happen? On Saturday, the Sixers had three guys playing well: Brand, Young, and Williams. And that wasn't enough. How many games this year will they have 5 guys shooting and playing at the top of their game? Maybe a couple? They need to figure out how to win games when they have one or two guys scoring well -- because that's likely how it'll be most nights.
I'm not sure how many of you guys watched every minute of the Cavaliers game, but one play in particular stood out. It was on defense in the third quarter. Jason Smith was in the game. He was guarding a Cavs big man, can't remember which one. Either way, he hedged out on a pick and roll, slowing down I believe it was Mo Williams. He was all the way near the midline, along the three-point line. Williams fired it back to the big man Smith was guarding, who had rolled for a jumper. Smith sprinted back to his guy, flying past him to contest the jumper. The guy missed the jumper, but followed his shot and snagged the O-Board (cause Smith had taken himself out of the play). Smith changed direction and sprinted back into the play, blocking the shot from behind. The ball stayed in bounds, Rodney Carney grabbed it in the corner. A few seconds later, Lou Williams was making a three-pointer and the Sixers had their first lead of the game.
Honestly, realistically, this is how the Sixers have to play defense. They're never going to be a reliable, all the time, offensive machine. They'll have their games when the fastbreaking is working, they'll have their games when they happen to be knocking down shots from outside -- those games will happen, but they won't be consistent. But they can consistently give that effort on defense. And, through 13 games, that's not the kind of effort they're giving on defense. If an opponent makes one -- just one -- extra pass, the Sixers are behind on their rotation and there is an open shooter. And they're so far behind, you can almost see them shrugging, like "Well, I'm so far away now I might as well just stay in here for the rebound." They're talking a lot about defense, as is Jordan, but if they're going to end this 7 game stretch with their heads above water -- and not buried at the bottom of the Eastern Conference -- they're going to need to actually play defense the way they say they want to play defense.
* Check out the video in the Deep Sixer player below on the right. It's after today's practice. We all like shooting at the hoop when it's being dropped from the ceiling. If you want quicker updates, follow on Twitter, click here, Deep Sixer.