Here we are. The first game of that final 4: Cleveland, Toronto, Boston, Cleveland. Tonight it's LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the Wachovia Center. If this game isn't sold out, it's very close. It should be an awesome environment. The only issue is the recent play of the 76ers, which hasn't been very awesome.
It hasn't been good, either. They have lost three straight to the New Jersey Nets, Charlotte Bobcats, and Chicago Bulls. The word coming from Sixers coach Tony DiLeo is that Thaddeus Young's injury has impacted the Sixers offense, as well as their defense. When someone just asked him, in the pre-game session, if Young's injury should impact their defense since defense is really just energy and effort, DiLeo said that Young is a key guy in the rotation, so players are playing more minutes and getting tired because of his absence.
This is a tough spot for the Sixers. You want to hold them accountable for losing three games to three losing teams, but at the same time you can understand the issue with Young's injury. But then again: you lose a second-year guy (albeit a great second-year guy) and you can't win one of those games? You get beat by 29 points and about 15 points, and are down 20 at one point to the Bobcats?
So what should we expect tonight against the Cavaliers? Realistically? Who the heck knows at this point. The Sixers have beaten the best, lost to the worst.
But here's my thinking: If the Sixers come out tonight and compete, really compete, with the Cavaliers, then what has happened the last three games has less to do with Thad and more to do with the Sixers effort being lower than it should have been. How can they win tonight (or come close to winning) without Thad and claim that he's the reason their play has been so bad? Although, if the Sixers beat the Cavaliers tonight, that will probably matter very little. What will matter is the Sixers will have perhaps pulled even with the Miami Heat (who play the Celtics) for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conferece.
It's a long NBA season. Really long. And it can't be easy with injuries to Elton Brand, Jason Smith, and Young. It can't. But right now it's looking like the Sixers might finish the final 7 games of this season with a 1-6 record, which is equivalent to limping into the playoffs, regardless of which team they face.