Here we are ... Cleveland. Game 2 of 2 against LeBron James, et all.
Realistically, though, the Sixers opponent is of little consequence at this point. Yesterday, the Sixers watched film of the first LeBron game (a loss on Wednesday night), shot around for a few minutes, then boarded a plane for Cleveland.
But, before boarding the flight for Cleveland, we had a few minutes to find out exactly what the thought process was, right now, sitting at 9-13, staring at 9-14 (the Cavaliers are sporting a 19-3 record and playing at home).
Here are the things the Sixers said. Things we've heard since Day 1:
1.) The problem is defense. "We have to improve defensively."
2.) This team's identity is still run-and-gun.
Let me say, from the beginning of this post, I am struggling to understand both of these points. Let's break it down. Back to No. 1....
1.) The problem is defense? The Sixers are holding opponents to 95.4 points per game, good for Top 10 in the NBA. But even without numbers, I'm just struggling to understand how, 22 games into the season, you're still talking about problems on defense and chalking them up to "communication and consistency." Defense isn't 100% about effort, everyone on the court has to understand the philosophy (i.e. Are they forcing baseline toward the help? Forcing middle? Are they fronting the post player or playing behind? Are they jumping hard on the pick-and-roll or sliding behind?), but in the NBA, through preseason camp and 22 games into a season, the issue just can't be "communication and consistency." If the problem truly is defense, then the Sixers need to put people on the court willing to play all-out defense. Reggie Evans does that. He creates problems with the effort he exerts on defense. If the problem is truly defense, then make it happen. You don't need anything to be a strong defensive team but five players willing to communicate (this should be inherent at this stage) and play with effort.
But the above paragraph hinges on the belief that the problem actually is defense. But it just doesn't seem that's what is holding this team back. The Sixers are 27th of 30 NBA teams in points per game (94.27). But if you watch the games, what really breaks their back is the inability to make the big shot. And "the big shot" doesn't mean it has to be in the last 2 minutes of the game. You can feel when Willie Green, Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala, etc. take an important shot. It could be a 3-pointer to push their lead from 8 to 11. To cut the lead from 6 to 3. You can tell, as the shot is taken, that it's an important, game-changing shot. And the Sixers just aren't making those shots right now. And other teams have been. If you watch enough games, you'll have felt this same problem. It almost feels as it does when your NFL team has a bad secondary and you just know as the opposing quarterback releases his pass that it's going to be a completion. But, in this case, you just feel like that shot isn't going to go in. (Hmmm ... I wonder if that analogy works.) My point is, the expectation is disappointment, because that's what has happened more often than not.
Onto No. 2
2.) This team's identity is still run-and-gun? I feel like, right now, this is flawed logic. It's like trying to make Kurt Warner a scrambler (look at me and my football analogies). Even Cheeks had a tough time explaining himself in practice. First he said, "Our identity is what it was before: create turnovers and get out in the open floor." By "what it was before," I assume he means before the Elton Brand signing this summer. Okay, so that's what Cheeks said. Then, a few minutes later, he said it was easier to run "with four smalls out there rather than two bigs." So ... it's true I'm stuck in an airport with too much time on my hands, but ... doesn't this logic seem flawed? If the identity of this team is still run-and-gun, but that's admittedly difficult to do with two bigs on the floor, then why does the starting lineup include two bigs? The truth, from what I've seen, is that the identity of this team isn't run-and-gun. It is for stretches. The other night against Cleveland, the Sixers scored 26 fast break points. In a previous home game, against the Jazz I believe, the Sixers didn't score any. If it's your identity, then you should base your game around it night-in and night-out. Otherwise, it's not your identity. And the result -- if you're depending on fast break points that sometimes don't appear -- is inconsistency ... a 9-13 record.
When asked if, since trying to run with two bigs is difficult, Cheeks would start a small lineup against Cleveland, Cheeks said: "I mean, playing Cleveland, I'm not going to play four smalls and have us at a disadvantage."
Right. Let me say again: I"m in an airport with too much time on my hands.
Let's take a quick look at tonight's game: Sixers (9-13) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (19-3). Cheeks seemed to be leaning towards the same starting lineup (Andre Miller, Green, Iguodala, Brand, and Dalembert) that he used on Wednesday night.