That's the challenge right now. How do you explain back-to-back losses to the New Jersey Nets and Charlotte Bobcats? Losses that come at the worst possible time: When the 76ers could be in the hunt for the fourth seed.
If the Sixers win both those games, they are 42-35, and would have put some distance between themselves and the Miami Heat, 41-37. I think we've said enough how important the five seed is. But, also, the Sixers could have been right on the Atlanta Hawks tail for the four seed -- and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks are 44-34. But that's all passed at this point. The reality is the Sixers have reacted to winning just as they have all season: By going on a down swing. We've seen it all season. Great wins, bad wins. Great stretches, bad stretches.
Maybe the reality is as we've suspected all season. This is a .500 basketball team. No matter how many times they prove they are better, with huge road wins on long west coast swings, they can't play that way on a nightly basis.
As everyone says, the NBA game is a game of runs. It would make no sense to go crazy over a 11-2 run the Sixers allow in the third quarter. Those things happen. Almost every game. What doesn't seem to make sense is starting the game -- coming off an embarrassing, 29-point loss to the Nets -- by shooting 29 percent in the first quarter, scoring 19 points and allowing 28 to the Bobcats. It seems that would be the one 12-minute stretch you would make darn sure you played strongly.
After the game, Sixers coach Tony DiLeo seemed as angry as we've seen him all year. Since he's a low-key guy, that's not saying a lot. But it's saying something. He seemed to have an edge of frustration with how the team played against New Jersey and the first half against Charlotte. He said something along the lines of: 'We can't just go out there and be. We're not good enough.' True statement.
Here are a few things that stood out last night at Time Warner Cable Arena (what a name).
1.) Andre Iguodala on Gerald Wallace. Iguodala did not seem entirely interested in locking down Wallace. It's a tough matchup for Andre, since Wallace is bigger and more physical. But Andre seemed to concede that Wallace would overpower on a few occasions. And that end-of-game play where Raymond Felton airballed and Wallace slid behind the defense and laid in the winning basket -- the defense was Iguodala's.
2.) Slammin' Sammy. Not sure why he wasn't in the game down the stretch. I think Statman discussed this on a different post today. But it's worth noting. While Sammy isn't always effective. And can seem disinterested, he was more effective than Theo Ratliff last night. Theo, especially in that second quarter, seemed concerned with getting his offense going. Never a good sign.
3.) Willie Green. Willie was the reason the Sixers made that third-quarter run. He should have played the entire fourth quarter, also. At least until he cooled off. I understand the rotations are difficult because Lou Williams was scoring, and you want Andre Miller and Iguodala in there also, but Green's outside shooting was the difference.
I think the overall frustration is the lack of understanding about why the Sixers "lose focus" and can't "maintain intensity." Maybe every NBA team has the same problem, but we're tunnel-visioned on the Sixers. Perhaps. I'm sure other middle of the pack teams have the same issues. But the top 10 teams don't seem to have these issues. And if they do, they present themselves rarely during the season.