WASHINGTON - After the lottery-bound Washington Wizards soundly beat the 76ers in every statistical category on the way to a 97-76 victory at the Verizon Center on Friday night, the most damaging aspect is that all of a sudden the Sixers, at least to their coach, appear to be a team without an identity.
The loss, coupled with Boston's 100-79 victory over Minnesota, gives the Celtics (29-22) a one-game lead over the Sixers (28-23) in the Atlantic Division.
The problem was somewhat clear at halftime when coach Doug Collins, walking with his team to the locker room, shook his head while staring at the floor and dug his hand in his pocket, looking like the perplexed father who doesn't know what to expect from a wayward child.
After a drubbing that saw the Wizards end a five-game losing streak by holding the Sixers to 36.6 percent shooting while making 48.3 percent of their own, outrebound them 52-38, collect 26 assists to the Sixers' 19, outwork the Sixers, and look the part of the team that has playoff aspirations, Collins sounded as if he had no clue what to expect from these Sixers the next time they take the court.
"For whatever reason we weren't ready," Collins said. "You get down and you think you are going to turn on some switch or whatever. But those guys knocked us around. They played well. Hats off to them. They played well and they deserved to beat us like they did tonight. That wasn't even a game."
Asked what he expected of the Sixers when they face Atlanta tonight at Wells Fargo Center, Collins' answer was puzzling.
"I have no idea," Collins said. "I have no idea."
What he was certain about was that after the first half he did not think the Sixers, looking at a 19-point deficit, would climb out of it.
He was right. The Sixers would get no closer than 13 points in the fourth quarter. It was the Wizards, led by reserve guard Cartier Martin's career-high 20 points, who toyed whenever the Sixers appeared to be ready to make a charge. Martin is on a 10-day contract with the wizards after playing in the D-League with the Iowa Energy.
The loss ended the Sixers' five-game winning streak over the Wizards. More disconcerting, while this is a different team from the one the Sixers beat in their first three meetings this season - the Wizards have added center Nene (16 points) from Denver - this was the kind of game that the Sixers have to win at this point of the season.
"We got what we deserved," said Sixers forward Elton Brand, who finished with eight points and nine rebounds. "We knew that this was going to be a different ball club than the team that we beat five times pretty handily. There are no excuses.
"They played a back-to-back but they came out like they were the hungrier team - like they wanted it more," Brand continued. They played with energy and we didn't play with that hunger and poise that we usually play with on the road.'
Reserves Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young led the Sixers with 14 points each. Evan Turner had 11 points.
Center Spencer Hawes finished with six points and seven rebounds. However, Hawes did not play at all in the fourth quarter.