Not staying down for long

Jrue Holiday and the Sixers rebounded from Sunday's bad loss to Sacramento by beating the Bulls Monday. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

The 76ers just don’t seem to stay down for long. This season has been speckled with very bad losses, losses that make you wonder if it’ll break the team’s back. After all, it’s not ridiculous to think this epic turnaround is only temporary, that pretty soon we’ll all wake up from this and the Sixers will return to being just another bad Eastern Conference team.

Each time that worry creeps into mind, like it did after Sunday afternoon’s overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings (a team they’d just beaten a week earlier, on the road, by 20-plus points), the Sixers just seem to look around at one another and say, “Let’s do this.” A loss to the Miami Heat, a loss to the Kings, and then a game against the Chicago Bulls – seemed like a three-game losing streak waiting to happen. Considering the one thing everyone on this team has been saying for the last few games is that they don’t want to limp into the playoffs or face an extended losing streak, this seemed like a perfect time to panic. Come on, we could all sense it: end-of-season collapse and then, in the midst of all of that doubt, a first-round playoff sweep. Back to where they started. A long off season. 

Here’s what happens instead. Sixers coach Doug Collins texts Thaddeus Young late after the Kings’ game. He tells Young he’s going to bounce back; he’s going to be fine. Young responds that Collins can count on him. The team holds a morning meeting where they’re all reminded of who they are, how they do things, what they’ve accomplished. This team hasn’t lost three games in a row since losing to the Miami Heat on Nov. 26 (the third of three straight losses and the final loss of the now-infamous 3-13 start). So, the Sixers walk into the United Center where the Bulls had won 14 consecutive games and build a 23-point lead. We all knew the game would get close in the second half, and it did, but what we didn’t know was whether the Sixers would hold on, make some shots, and get themselves back on track. They did that, too. Spencer Hawes hit a trio of huge jumpers and Young was awesome.

Now that the team has buried another set of worries, they’re looking at a three-game stretch against the Houston Rockets at home, New Jersey Nets at home, and Milwaukee Bucks on the road. An extended losing streak, looking at that schedule, seems unlikely.

After the game, point guard Jrue Holiday talked about how this team manages to always get these types of victories. Here’s what he said: “I think we play to our level of competition. Last game we should have won. Feels like every time we have a three-game stretch, it’s a really good team at the end of it. Last time it was Boston, we beat them. This time Chicago. We really stepped it up a notch and jumped on them early. This is probably one of the only teams I’ve been on that has that much heart. Losing, to us, we take it personally.”

Now, “playing to the level of competition” is not necessarily a great trait, but if you consider that in the upcoming NBA playoffs the Sixers will likely play either the Miami Heat or the Boston Celtics, the Sixers are going to need to play up to their competition. They haven’t been a team that’s built their record on beating just the teams beneath them. Actually, it’s the opposite of that. They have far too many losses to the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers. But they won’t be seeing those teams in the playoffs. They’ll be seeing a team above them.

As interesting as the recent Lil Wayne concert drama was, whether you found it ridiculous or a point worth discussing, it’s important to note one thing: in recent years, no one has cared what players did before a game. There weren’t enough people paying attention, weren’t enough people at the game to be disappointed by the result. Things are different this season. People care.


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