Maybe you've noticed, maybe you haven't, but lately the 76ers have been getting killed by the three-point shot. Obviously, this is a season-long problem, but lately it's been especially problematic.
Let's look at the numbers: Tonight the New Orleans Hornets were 10 for 16. The other night the Orlando Magic made 15 three-pointers. In the last five games, the Sixers have allowed 11.4 made three-pointers a game. 11.4.
Here's the issue (that I have) with this: The explanation the Sixers are offering makes sense, but it's not being executed.
Against the Orlando Magic, the Sixers said it was their "scheme" to make the Magic trio of guards Johnson, Lee, and Alston make three-point shots. Okay, I can understand that: Limit Dwight Howard, limit Turkoglu, limit Rashard Lewis. And if that aforementioned trio of guards is going to beat the Sixers from downtown, then so be it.
But what ended up happening on the court was that Howard was limited because of game-long foul trouble, taking away one of the "pick-your-poisons," and Turkoglu and Lewis had 23 points apiece -- and shot 8 for 13 from downtown -- and Lee finished the game 3 for 4 from the three-point line.
Like I said -- and I hate to be negative -- I can understand the "scheme." What I can't understand is how, after that game, the Sixers were still claiming they had executed the scheme and what had happened was the Magic had made the tough shots, which the Sixers had game-planned to offer. If you look at the boxscore, exactly what did the Sixers limit? Howard was limited because of foul trouble. The rest of the lineup got theirs.
You have a similar situation tonight. New Orleans finishes the night 10 for 16 from the three-point line (62.5 percent for those of you without calculators handy) and still they say it was a case of "pick-your-poison." Exactly which poison did the Sixers leave on the shelf? David West scored 30 points inside, Chris Paul had 16 points and 12 assists, Rasual Butler and James Posey -- outside shooters -- had 16 each, and Peja Stojakovic went 2 for 3 from the three-point line.
Open shooters. It happens. But does it happen 57 times in five games? Not unless you're having breakdowns, which the Sixers are. It's true you offer something on defense, but it doesn't mean you offer Chris Paul a wide-open three-pointer with enough time to spin the ball in his hands exactly how he'd like, check his feet, and then shoot. You offer the lowest percentage shot, but you contest it, or you make them pump fake and take a dribble. Lately, the Sixers rotation has allowed the ball to be swung to a player who is too open. That's isn't a successful NBA scheme: Any NBA player who has the amount of time the Sixers are giving is going to be a better shooter than his percentage. Great, so the Sixers are forcing a 30.0 percent three-point shooter to shoot. But they're also giving him such a length of time -- much more than he is used to during his 30.0 percent shooting season -- that he becomes a 10-15 percent higher shooter. At that point, how are the Sixers playing the percentages?
It's been a bad stretch for the Sixers -- 2-6 since the all-star break. But what's been especially frustrating is the poor coverage on the defensive end, without ownership after the game. A team does not shoot 62.5 percent on you if you've "contested" all their three-pointers. And you aren't "picking your poison" if you're swallowing all the poisons.
Still, the Sixers are 29-30 and in seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. Earlier this season, they endured a similar stretch and then went 14-4 over an 18-game. It can be done. And the Sixers have four days before their next game. Although DiLeo would not specifically commit to needing to work on defending the three-pointer (he said they needed to improve the "little things," like loose balls, etc.) if they don't figure out a way to defend the perimeter -- whether it's at the point of inception with the pick-and-roll, or with failed defensive rotations -- this outside game is going to continue to be a problem into the postseason.
Actually, tonight it was point guard Andre Miller who seemed most in touch with what's been happening since the break. We asked him if he was watching the seedings race. He said:
"I am. I follow all of that. This is a very big month ... This right here will pretty much decide our season."
Then he added: "We have to control our destiny and right now we're not doing it."