That might be what 76ers fans are wondering this morning, a few hours after that really bad 29-point loss to the New Jersey Nets: Will this impact the final six games? Will the Sixers struggle and slip lower in the Eastern Conference seedings?
Going into last night's game, the Sixers were in prime position: sole possessors of the fifth seed ahead of the Miami Heat, 2 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the fourth seed. Heck, about 90 minutes before tip-off, Sixers coach Tony DiLeo mentioned that the Sixers were gunning for that fourth seed, for home-court advantage. This was the first time DiLeo had said anything specific. Most of the time the answer was something along the lines of, "We're trying to win each game as it comes at us."
Then the Sixers looked awful against the not-good Nets. And the loss meant New Jersey swept the four-game season series -- never a good thing. It also meant the Sixers fell to the sixth spot. But the bigger concern is the timing. The Sixers don't have an easy final six games. They play a tough, two-game road trip at the Charlotte Bobcats and the Chicago Bulls, both teams still fighting. They play the Cleveland Cavaliers at home and away (the Cavs are 39-1 at home and still fighting with the Lakers for the best record, and home court advantage, in the NBA Finals). They play the Boston Celtics at home. In between all that, they travel to Toronto to play the Raptors. All this means that Sunday's game against New Jersey was, perhaps, one of the last games that felt like "Ok, they should grab this one." Especially with the way they've been playing. Going into last night's game, the Sixers were 10-4 in their previous 14 games.
Maybe I'm being optimistic here, but I think Sunday night was an anomaly. I think it stands alone. I think it was the result of a grueling back-to-back, too many minutes for their main guys, and inevitable in this last stretch for the Sixers that includes something like 26 games in 40 days.
I think on Sunday night we saw how important Young's scoring ability is to the lineup. I don't think that means the Sixers will be anemic down the stretch, only that on a night like that, with fatigue and frustration, Young is a guy that could have changed the poor offensive effort. Throughout the season, when Andre Iguodala doesn't have anything going, Young usually has taken that burden. He wasn't there to do that last night. Going forward, I think the Sixers will be fine against the Bobcats and Bulls -- not saying they will win both, I anticipate a split on this quick road trip -- but their scorers will recover.
Also, the Sixers just don't lose games like that. It was the worst loss of the season. The previous worst was 24 points. It was the first time since Dec. 29, when the Sixers lost at the Utah Jazz 112-95, that the Sixers lost by more than 15 points. They almost never just completely breakdown like that.
Now, I do think the loss might cost them. It might not, but the way this race for the fifth seed with the Miami Heat is playing out, it wouldn't surprise anyone that one loss would be the difference.
But anticipate the Sixers to look like their normal selves tomorrow against the Bobcats. Maybe I'm being too positive, but this isn't a team that just folds at the end of games. We know they aren't contenders for the NBA title, but they tend to compete ... unlike what we saw against the Nets.
Here's a portion of point guard Andre Miller's quote after the game: "We're not going to make any excuses; we just played a bad game ... It just wasn't there tonight and that just happens sometimes."
Miller usually tells it like it is.