This article was originially published in the Daily News on February 8, 2001.
The 76ers battled through a surprise blizzard Monday and found a way to gather their forces in time to beat the Denver Nuggets. Last night, after an otherwise perfectly clear, shining day, they found themselves hopelessly lost in a fog.
This wasn't just a loss, it was a bad one. One that ended with an ugly, unnecessary twist. One that will stay with them through the NBA All-Star break that begins today.
It wasn't just a 112-87 loss to the Houston Rockets, the largest-of-the-season 25-point differential or the third loss in succession to opponents with sub-.500 records. It was the Rockets' Shandon Anderson hurling the ball the length of the court to rookie Dan Langhi, who dropped in a layup at the final buzzer. It was Sixers coach Larry Brown yelling, "That's bull. " It was the Rockets' Steve Francis, after spewing a few expletives, getting in Brown's face and yelling, "You lost. You lost. You lost. "
That's what the Sixers took home with them, along with their remarkable 36-14 record, the knowledge that injured point guard Eric Snow is likely to resume playing Tuesday night in Milwaukee and the uncertain situation surrounding All-Star center Theo Ratliff.
Ratliff, who suffered a sprained right wrist a few weeks ago, appeared to aggravate the injury last night. Although X-rays were negative, he was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam this morning to check for the possibility of a stress fracture or ligament damage.
"If the All-Star Game were [today], he would be uncomfortable," said Dr. Jack McPhilemy, the Siorthopedic specialist.
Ratliff is scheduled to join the Sixers' Allen Iverson as a starter in Sunday's All-Star Game in Washington.
At the same time, the Sixers coaches were scheduled to send Snow (stress fracture, right ankle), Matt Geiger (arthroscopic surgery, right knee) and Toni Kukoc (strained lower back) through a workout this morning to get a better read on the likelihood of their availability for the game in Milwaukee.
Strength and conditioning coach James Lloyd was scheduled to travel to the Tampa, Fla., area to work with Geiger at his ranch. Snow, as the Sixers' player representative, will be in Washington for meetings and was planning to work out with the Sixers' staff, who will assist Brown in coaching the East.
But even with all that swirling around, what seemed to hurt the Sixers most was the disappointing way the loss to the Rockets ended.
"They were great, they were great up to the last five-tenths of a second," Brown said. He declined to elaborate.
"I know Steve [Francis]," the Sixers' Tyrone Hill said. "I like his game. But you don't go after [an opposing] coach like that. I'm just hurt. Coach [Brown] is like a grandfather to him. He loves young players, so you know he likes Steve Francis.
"We don't look down on them. If we had them down 30, we would never do that, no matter what happens. They've got to apologize. They've got the ball, they've got the game, they had nothing to prove. "
Anderson, seeing Francis and Brown going at each other, hurried over to the Sixers' bench to say, "We're not trying to do that, you know that. " Snow stepped between Brown and Francis.
"You can't blame the whole loss on that," said Francis, who had 23 points and was still on the floor in the final minutes because backup Moochie Norris had suffered an ankle injury. "If they want to, so be it. . .I love Larry Brown, too. He's such a competitor, just like I am. If we got spanked at home, I'd have been mad, too. "
Make no mistake, the Sixers - who have bordered on amazing all season - did get spanked. Cuttino Mobley, from Cardinal Dougherty High, also scored 23 points, and 38-year-old Hakeem Olajuwon erupted for 18 points and 14 rebounds in 25 minutes.
"I have no control over what happens out there with 3 seconds to go," Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "Believe me, I'm not calling plays with 3 seconds to go. A guy picked the ball up and threw the ball down the court. Our young guys just like to play. I thought the game was over; I was down in the tunnel, time had sort of run out, everybody was walking off the floor. "
The Sixers were walking off with their fourth loss in their last six games, looking like a team that very much needed the All-Star break.
"They kicked our butts, that was the most troubling [part]," Brown said. "They were great. New Jersey ran 50 pick-and-rolls against us [in Sunday's loss by the Sixers] and they must've run the same amount. We didn't do a very good job of stopping penetration.
"The last 10, 12 games, we've had too many one pass-shoot possessions, too many bad shots. When you're having a hard time guarding people, you can't just come down and shoot when no one else touches it. . . You can't shoot quickly when you're shorthanded. You've got to control the tempo and run plays, and we're not running a lot of offense. With us, if we're not getting a lot done offensively, we're putting too much pressure on [ourselves]. "
The Sixers also played for the second game in succession without backup point guard Kevin Ollie, who remained in Hartford, Conn., to be with his wife, Steph-anie, who gave birth to a daughter Monday night. And the shock troops who were so effective against the Nuggets seemed somewhat overmatched this time. Not that that made the subs any different than the starters.
"Just a poor team performance," Sixers forward George Lynch said. "We got away from our total team concept - helping on defense, offensive execution. We didn't share the ball, we got caught playing too much one-on-one. It was just bad all-around, one of those things. We have to come back, regroup after the break, get healthy and refocus. "
But if the Rockets' layup at the buzzer and the accompanying trash-talking by Francis bothered the Sixers, it didn't seem to faze Iverson.
"I didn't see anything wrong with it, if that's the way they are, if that's the type of players they are," said Iverson, who scored 26 points. "Obviously, they didn't see anything wrong with it. Obviously, it must have felt real good to beat us. I'd be lying to say I expected it. I didn't expect anything like that, but I could see how it could happen. "
The Sixers' Aaron McKie, who came up under the hard disciplinary hands of Simon Gratz coach Bill Ellerbee and Temple's John Chaney, said the way the final seconds unfolded was "everything against what I've been taught.
"With coach Brown, the kind of coach he is, if we have a lot of points and the ball [at the end], he'll say kill the clock, don't take shots," McKie said. "Play basketball, don't try and show a team up, because it can always come back to haunt you.
"It's not a big deal. We know and understand how to play the right way. There have been plenty of nights we've had the opportunity to do that to other teams; it's not in our makeup. We're not going to get caught up in that scene. "