The 76ers should officially be done talking about the playoffs. Of course, until they are actually mathematically eliminated, it’s unlikely we’ll stop hearing about a last-gasp push for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, which currently belongs to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Sixers are now 22-35, which means they’ll need to finish around 19-6 to contend for that last playoff spot. And considering their next two opponents are the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic, odds are that in two games they’ll need to finish around 19-4.
And considering their three opponents after the Lakers and Magic are the Atlanta Hawks (away), the Boston Celtics (home), and the Toronto Raptors (away), it’s not unrealistic to think the Sixers would be looking at a 19-1 “playoff push.”
More likely, the Sixers will pick up at least two wins in the next six games and need to finish something like 17-3.
(Let’s hope my math was OK there.)
Right now, I’m currently flying from Phoenix to Los Angeles, where the Sixers will play the Lakers tomorrow night. It was about this time last year when the Sixers won, arguably, their best game of the season, defeating Los Angeles on a last-second three pointer by Andre Iguodala. A lot has changed since then. And what exactly happened? Any Sixer fan paying attention can take you through the list of explanations and we’ve gone over them repeatedly on here, so let’s skip that step for today. If you’re new here, be sure to pull up any number of previous blogs that might shed some light on that subject.
But as for what’s happening currently with the Sixers, let’s take a look.
After last night’s loss to the Suns, I watched some Olympic coverage and Sports Center. ESPN was showing college basketball highlights. It must have been a St. John’s game ESPN was highlighting last night because it showed St. John’s arena (Carnesseca Arena, I believe) where the Sixers played their final preseason game against the New Jersey Nets at the beginning of this season. Seeing that gym reminded me of that game, which seemed to start a lot of this confusion. I remember the Sixers got blown out by the Nets that game. It was a bad performance, the offense was mostly standing around and turning the ball over, and it just seemed like an ominous way to head into the regular-season schedule. Walking down to the post-game availability, I was assuming we’d hear something from Jordan along the lines of: tough way to end the preseason, we’re going to need to find some better options in the offense before we open the regular season, we’ll get back to the drawing board, etc., etc.
Instead, Jordan said something about how he was pleased, about how the pre-season had gone exactly according to plan. It was confusing, because that loss did not look like anyone's plan, even if you wanted to rest your guys for the last preseason game.
All this is to say that many post-game gatherings since have had this same sense of confusion. And, to some extent, last night’s after the Phoenix loss was no different. Jordan opened by saying, “I didn’t have any problem with our effort, I just thought there was a stretch where we didn’t execute as well and we didn’t make shots.”
At this point in the season, 57 games into the season, effort, execution, and made shots can’t be separated apart, designated for specific applause. Either you give effort, execute the game plan, AND make the shots … or you don’t.
And the Sixers don’t. They do, occasionally, during some games, but overall, they don’t. Overall, they don’t execute whatever it is they’re trying to do. I’m not exactly sure what they’re trying to do – it’s quite obvious what offense the Suns are executing, and it’s quite nice to watch – but whatever offense the Sixers are trying to execute isn’t getting executed.
It just seems that 57 games into the season, with the Sixers needing scrambling effort and hard-fought victories, to say all is well because the problem wasn’t effort, it was execution and made shots (and this after a loss in which you trailed by as many as 22 points in the third quarter) seems indicative of the entire problem.
Also, it shouldn’t go without saying that in the fourth quarter of last night’s game, Jordan did not play Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, or Samuel Dalembert. Jordan went with a unit of Lou Williams, Rodney Carney, Jason Kapono, Thaddeus Young, and Marreese Speights.
It’s hard to say exactly what this means. Was Jordan frustrated with the play of Iguodala/Brand/Dalembert? Or did he really just feel this unit was getting the team back into the game? Afterwards, Jordan said he felt this unit was cutting into the deficit and executing well (just not making shots).
Did Jordan think this unit could win the game? Or had he already conceded defeat when his first until got itself down 22 points in the third quarter?
Ok, plane is about to land …