And Now For the Final 34

Sixers forward Marreese Speights (16) will see increased minutes the rest of the way now that Elton Brand is out. (Ron Cortes / File photo)

Yesterday was about Elton Brand. It was about dealing with the news of his season-ending surgery. It was about getting onto the Wachovia Center floor, finding a way to beat Indiana, and moving on. Luckily, that's what the 76ers did. It seems apt that, starting today, the Sixers are 24-24. They have 34 games to redefine this season.
I'm of the opinion that the Sixers will be a playoff team. Obviously, they're in the seventh spot right now so I'm not suggesting anything crazy. But, if we're going to be honest, right now they also look like a one-and-done playoff team. And maybe that's fine for this season. Maybe, given everything that's happened -- Cheeks, DiLeo, Brand, no Brand -- that would be considered successful.
Maybe ... I just don't buy it. If I'm part of the Sixers, if I'm DiLeo, I have 34 games to mold this team, to give them a chance -- come April -- to surprise a few people. There are two issues, in my opinion: 1.) Consistent outside shooting; 2.) Legitimate, nightly, post presence.
There are 13 days until the trade deadline, and I believe it's likely the Sixers will make a deal. Obviously a new player(s) impact(s) these two areas (one would hope, anyway, that Stefanski wouldn't deal for a swingman). But given the current pieces, let's look at these two areas.
Oh, and I welcome Statman to chime in with some pertinent stats. I know the Sixers have had a rollecoaster of a season beyond the arc. At one point a few games ago I crunched a number that the Sixers shot something like 42 percent from the three-point line in victories and something like 27 percent in losses.
1.) Consistent outside shooting: When the Sixers hit that DiLeo-instated number -- 5 -- they seem unstoppable. With their array of talent, adding that final weapon sends them soaring. But, lately, they've been bad. And I don't know if it has anything to do with Brand's return or not. Nothing I've seen on the court makes me believe it was Brand. But, lately, their rhythm on offense has been non-existent. Many of the outside shots they've taken have been wrong. With one exception: Royal Ivey's big three-pointer from the left corner in the second half against the Celtics. That one, absolutely, was going to be a make.
Quickly, in case you're doubting the inconsistency, here's the Sixers three-point shooting by month: October: 28.0 percent; November: 34.2 percent; December: 23.5 percent; January: 39.0 percent; February: 30.0 percent.
Look at December to January. It's not surprising the Sixers were 10-5 in January.
We've talked before about why they were shooting so well. It was because DiLeo had them green-lighted, but not just for any three-pointer. He had them green-lighted for the three pointer that came off penetration, kick, swing to the open man, shot. Perfect. Percentage soars. What happened?
It feels, almost, like when you cut a turn too close, nail your tire on a curb, and your car's alignment is slightly off. Something has been slightly off in the last seven to eight games. They're driving mostly straight, but each offensive possession feels derailed a touch. And while those high-percentage shots the Sixers often get (Speights alley-oop, Iguodala dunk, Dalembert dunk, Young lefty floater ...) aren't going to be affected, the outside shooting will be.
How do they get that rhythm back? Run the heck out of the ball. All shooters know that when the outside shot seems off, you get yourself a layup in transition first, get that nice quick bucket to put yourself back in the game. Perhaps that seems a little too simple, but basketball is basketball. And the Sixers know they need to run first. The outside shot, for this team, should complement their myriad of slashers -- not the other way around.
2.) Legitimate, nightly, post presence: Brand was supposed to be the answer here. Brand was supposed to be the half-court scorer in the playoffs (at least that's what we believed, at least I did). Now look at the roster, does that player exist? Not really. But I propose the following: Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights. I dig Reggie Evans energy, but I don't want to see him catching the ball on the block, charged with getting the Sixers a crucial bucket. But Young? And Speights? Young has sometimes struggled when he faces up to the basket. He'd be 100 percent effective if he didn't have to bring the ball with him, but he often bobbles it when trying to get from the three-point line to the rim. He leaves it just a second behind him and then the whole drive suffers. But on the block? He's so slippery down there. He has good footwork, he can finish with that floater, he shields his defender and can finish on the opposite side. If worked properly, he could draw a double-team. Not sure how his passing is out of a double-team, though.
And Speights, I don't know what happened last night against Indiana. He only played seven minutes. I didn't see the minutes he played, so I can't comment if he deserved more. All I know is that when he is on the floor, his defender can't worry about Andre Iguodala or Andre Miller, his defender must focus on him. Can't say the same for Reggie Evans or Samuel Dalembert. (Although, very quickly, Samuel has been playing great basketball lately. Fantastic basketball. No complaints, here. My only point is that his defender doesn't have to honor the 15-footer like you'd honor Speights from out there).
I've heard some talk about Speights' left knee. He has tendonitis in it. But I asked him before the Houston Rockets game (remember he played only 3 minutes the game before in New Orleans) if his knee had limited his minutes. He looked at me, kind of scowled, and said, "No ..." -- that's to say, the clear implication is his minutes were NOT limited by his knee, and perhaps he was a little miffed at the lack of minutes. As were some Sixers fans.
Now, final thing.  Last night, Ed Stefanski said what we've said on here from Day 1: "This is Andre Iguodala's team." We said on here that Iguodala was the conductor of this team -- that was back in October. And I remember folks were saying that was ludicrous. (Yes, I'm aware I'm blatantly self-promoting here, as well as taking a risk since Iguodala is still a young kid that will go through plenty more growing pains.)
In my opinion, those are the two issues that the Sixers must address to go from good to better, to go from first round to second round. Let me know if you're seeing something that also needs addressing.