Tough Times

Detroit Pistons center Ben Wallace guards Philadelphia 76ers forward Thaddeus Young in the second half of an NBA basketball game. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

The 76ers play their second of back-to-back games tonight at the Wachovia Center. They’re in the middle of a pretty difficult five game stretch that included/includes the Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns, New Jersey Nets, Utah Jazz, and Chicago Bulls.

Right now I’m on a flight home from Detroit, going straight to the Wachovia Center for tonight’s game against the Suns, which should be an interesting game.
I thought it was funny on yesterday’s blog post when someone commented to the effect of, “Seriously? An important NBA game in November?” Of course it’s not important in terms of win-losses or playoff implications. Of course most folks are much more concerned, on a Sunday, about the Eagles.
But for anyone watching this team right now – really watching it – you know things aren’t right. And it feels like a little more than just searching for that early-season rhythm. The Sixers, right now, seem slightly annoyed with each other. I’d love to say this is some sort of behind-the-scenes insight I’m offering, but it’s not. It’s helpful that I’ve seen all 6 games, sure, but yesterday in Detroit one of the Detroit writers came up to me after the Pistons 88-81 win over the Sixers and said, “What’s up with the Sixers?”
It’s for this reason that these next 5-10 games are important: because the Sixers appear to be heading down a bad path. And if you’re watching closely, you’re catching the frustration exchanged in little moments on the court. Yesterday at Detroit, it was a stare down between Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala when Iguodala failed to give Brand the ball in the post. Brand continued the stare even after Iguodala reversed the ball to the other side of the court. It’s moments like this that leave you wondering if maybe this Princeton Offense is a ways away from being embraced by everyone? And if not everyone is buying in, what’s that mean for the Sixers attitude and play this season? Right now, everyone is saying the right thing: they’re a work in progress, they’re learning more each day, it’s just a matter of waiting for it to gel.
An offense like this does take a lot of time. And it’s going to take even more time if there are guys on the team wondering why the heck they’re running it and from where their shots are going to come. There are a lot of issues you can see bubbling under the surface:
Samuel Dalembert’s minutes (On the surface -- cause that's all I can vouch for -- Dalembert has been 100 percent a team player this year, no public complaints on any level.) Just thinking that if things keep going the way of not starting the second half and playing only 14 minutes, it might very well become an issue.
Elton Brand’s minutes and opportunities: Brand isn’t a create-his-own-shot kinda guy. He needs those touches on the low block to be effective. He’s not really getting them. And he’s not playing at the end of games. He didn’t against the Nets and he wouldn’t have against the Pistons except Marreese Speights got hurt at the end.
The rotation. This is interesting, especially given how lock-solid last season’s rotation was. It became predictable: Andre Miller sits from the end of the third through the beginning of the fourth. Last season, there were certain parts of the rotation that we all knew what would happen and we knew when. Eddie Jordan has said he won’t sit guys for games at a time because he wants them to “all feel a part of what’s happening.” He wants them to be invested. Jordan coaches much more by gut feeling, which might account for why Rodney Carney – who did not play at all in the first half – played a hefty portion of yesterday’s fourth quarter, including many crucial minutes. Not sure how many of us saw that coming. I know I didn’t.
This isn’t meant to be negative about the Sixers for the sake of being negative. It’s supposed to be a realistic reflection of what’s been happening the first two weeks. Intuition says there are issues needing ironing out, even if everything being said seems positive (or at least leaning towards being positive). You can’t deny the glares between teammates, the complaining to referees, and the wandering away from huddles during timeouts and between quarters.
They are 3-3 and could – at any second – figure out how they want to play. Realistically, through 6 games, it’s pretty good they are 3-3. Maybe 10 games from now I’ll be able to blog about how quickly they got themselves together and how they look like a totally new team. Maybe that'll start tonight against the Suns.