Yankee Stadium is just starting to fill up. There's about an hour before the first pitch of Game 6 of the World Series between the Phillies and the Yankees. There's plenty else to think about tonight, but if you're a 76ers fan, you're probably still thinking about that 105-74 loss last night to the Boston Celtics. If we're blogging about it 55 minutes before this game, from the Auxiliary press box at Yankee Stadium, in the cold fall night, then there's still a lot left to digest.
I don't think anyone thought going into the game that the Sixers needed a victory. They didn't. But I do think there was a sense that they needed to show a little something. And they didn't. It's too soon, much too soon, to really stop and scrutinize why the Sixers are playing poorly thus far -- it could change in a week -- but it would be ridiculous to say there isn't a reason for concern. If you look at the first 4 games, there really isn't much reassuring. The Sixers were embarrassed by both the good teams they played: The Orlando Magic and Boston. Not just losing, but being down more than 30 points. Against the Milwaukee Bucks, who are 1-2, the Sixers trailed at the half. Against the New York Knicks, who are 1-3, the Sixers gave back a 23-point lead, allowed 41 points in the fourth quarter, and beat New York in overtime.
The most productive the Sixers have looked has come in transition, but that part of their game has yet to really unleash. If you noticed against the Celtics, power forward Elton Brand tried once in the second half to finish in transition by himself, but he bobbled the ball against Rondo and ended up 1 for 2 from the free-throw line. It seems they just aren't busting out into the open court like they did last year. Is that Brand's fault? Is it Jordan's fault? Is it just an over concern with running the offense? You have to acknowledge that Brand does not aid the Sixers running game. That's just a fact. He needs to accept this and always give up the ball to Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala on the break. The Sixers just aren't going to win many games if they don't score 20-25 points in the open court. Bottom line.
Again, it's early in the year, but this lack of defending the perimeter has been happening for years. In the losses to Orlando and the Celtics, the Sixers allowed 30 of 49 from the three-point line. Those numbers are absurd. When you talk to the Sixers afterwards, you get little answers. Is it a lack of understanding the principles? Is it a lack of effort? Iguodala said it's neither. He said it's just a lack of communication. Right now, you just don't know. There are new players, it's a new system, and you can't say after four games that there's a huge problem. They could just as easily come out and win a few difficult ball games. But in a month, the answer that it's "communication issues" is going to become old for those following this team who watched an entire season last year with the same problem. Along with this issue is the Sixers inability to make three-pointers. The trend right now is having big forwards who can knock down outside shots. It's no mystery why the Sixers won't ever be a team that can go 14 for 20: They don't have players like Rasheed Wallace or Rashard Lewis or Hedo Turkoglu. That isn't their makeup. Maybe they shouldn't be shooting 16 three-pointers a game? Maybe more like 8-10, with half of those being attempts from Jason Kapono?
There appears to be a disconnect among the Sixers starting lineup. Here's a few observations:
1.) Thaddeus Young seems to be forcing shots. He started last season with the hot hand, shooting like 50-60 percent from the three-point line after a few weeks. Clearly, he doesn't have the hot hand to start this season. He appears to be forcing a lot of shots, like he has something to prove instead of waiting for the types of plays that got him here: run outs on the break, offensive rebounds, etc.
2.) Will the Sixers ever figure out how to play with Elton Brand? Or will he just have some games where he scores 20 points, and others where he scores 6, and the Sixers never look like they should with him on the floor?
3.) This isn't from the starting lineup, but Willie Green's minutes have been slashed. He doesn't seem, to me, like the type of player who's going to be productive for you if he doesn't understand his role. Last season he started and he knew he'd play maybe the first 6-8 minutes of the game. He knew he could score at the start of a game. But now, he's sitting entire halves. Also, Jason Smith isn't doing nearly as much as it looked like he might be capable during the pre-season. His minutes have been limited by Marreese Speights' productivity.
Pretty soon, Jrue Holiday is going to need more minutes.