At halftime of Friday's Sixers-Mavericks game, Sixers CEO Adam Aron asked me if I could believe his team was winning by 14 points. I told him it was impressive. He then wearily asked me what I thought might happen in the second half. I say wearily because Aron knows me as a realist, not a cheerleader for his team.
I said one of two things could happen. Either the Mavericks come out in the second half and miss shots the way they did in the first and, without bench spark Jason Terry (our for personal reasons), the Mavericks could lose interest. Aron liked that answer.
Then I said that Dirk Nowitzki is going to hit shots (he was 2-for-11 at the half). How many he hit could be a big factor. That didn't please Aron. Nor did the final outcome of the game.
Nowitzki scored 24 points in the second half - the same number as the Sixers - and the Mavericks rode that to an 82-75 win that improved them to 20-11 and gave the Sixers their second loss in a row, also dropping their record to 20-11.
Where did it all go wrong? Well there were plenty of areas, first and foremost Nowitzki. In a 24-8 third quarter blitz by the Mavs, Nowitzki scored half his teams points, missing just one of his six shots, making two three-pointers and repeatedly draining his patented fade-way, one-footed, turnaround jump shot. All he did after that impressive third quarter stint was duplicate it in the fourth.
Perhaps enamored with Nowitzki's outside game, the Sixers decided that was how they were going to conduct business at the offensive end. Problem was, they couldn't hit any shots, making just 4-0f-20. It appeared as if there was an electric fence around the lane and the Sixers were wearing shocking collars because they never ventured there, instead relying solely on mostly mid-range jump shots.
And when you consider that they got only 29 points of offense from their starters, including 0-for-12 shooting from their starting backcourt of Jrue Holiday (0-for-9) and Jodie Meeks, the puzzle of this loss starts to come together a bit.
"It was a tale of two halves to say the least," said coach Doug Collins. "The first half we were active, in the open court, moving the ball, then the second half we started missing shots and I really thought we got discouraged. We got in the halfcourt and we couldn't create anything. That's a very good defensive team. I thought we missed a lot of shots that we normally make. We could never get anything offensively generated."
Many Sixer fans will point to the fact that in that decisive third quarter Dallas had a star to go to, knowing he alone could bring the Mavericks back in the game. And when that happened, the Sixers don't have that type of player to answer. That fact is known, but that's the way this team is currently built. What was most revealing was how no one appeared to even try to turn things around in the third. There were few, if any, hard drives to the basket in an attempt to get to the foul line, get a couple easy points and temporarily slow down the Dallas onslaught. Instead there appeared to be hesitency. Of the 20 shots taken, each of the nine by the starters missed.
"They forced us to take a lot of jump shots and not use our strengths," said Thaddeus Young, who scored 14 points before fouling out. "They got off and started making big shots, especially Dirk.
"We stop attacking the basket. If we keep attacking the basket like we've been doing in the past I think we'll stop these droughts. But I think that we've been sitting back and taking a few more jump shots than going to the basket. We've just got to go out there and continue to do the things that got us the lead in the first place."
Rookie Nikola Vucevic scored a career-high 16 points to lead the Sixers, while Lou Williams added 12 and Andre Iguodala 10.
It was the second-straight poor outing for Holiday, who finished with three points and just two assists. That followed a five-turnover and 1-of-8 shooting performance for him in Orlando on Wednesday. He is clearly struggling. When asked about his point guard's game, Collins replied: "Gotta keep fighting, man. It's a tough business. Tough business."
It only gets tougher as the team will fly to Minnesota on Saturday afternoon after a brief workout then face the Timberwolves on Sunday. They'll then face Memphis on Tuesday and Houston on Wednesday before heading to the All-Star break. After that they'll return to action on Tuesday in Detroit before hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder the next night.