Beaten Wednesday evening in the first end of a home-and-home series with the scorching Cleveland Cavaliers, Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks fired up the DVD player.
For just under an hour at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine yesterday, the Sixers watched selected lowlights from their 101-93 loss at the hands of the LeBron James-led Cavs. The Sixers were down by two points at the half, 48-46, but were outscored 18-3 to begin the third quarter. While Cheeks said his team did "a decent job" in guarding James, who is the No. 2 scorer in the league and tossed in 29 points, he was somewhat less than pleased with how the Sixers let the Cavs "push ahead."
The bottom line: Cheeks says the Sixers have to do a far better job playing defense when the two teams meet again this evening in Cleveland.
"We allowed that separation [in the third quarter]," says Cheeks, whose team trimmed a 21-point Cleveland lead to six down the stretch before falling back again. "Our defense was not as strong as it had been in the first half."
No one has fared well against the Cavs lately. They are 19-3 overall and have won 18 of their last 19. They have also won 10 straight, which is one shy of the franchise record set in 1988-89. Until Wednesday evening at the Wachovia Center, the Cavs had beaten nine straight opponents by double-digits.
Cheeks chuckled and said of the single-digit Sixers' loss, "So we can take solace in that."
Cheeks indicated that he planned to stay with the same lineup changes he used Wednesday, which is to say he will use Andre Iguodala at small forward, Willie Green at shooting guard and Thaddeus Young off the bench. While Green shot just 1-for-6 and Young 2-for-9 from the floor, Iguodala scored a season-high 27 points. He agreed that the Sixers have to play better defensively.
"We have to keep that defense consistent," said Iguodala. "We have to get stops and get out on the break."
Nine weeks into the season, the Sixers are in last place in the Atlantic Division with a 9-13 record. They got off to an equally poor start last season, only to come around when the club fired general manager Billy King and replaced him with Ed Stefanski just over a year ago. The Sixers began playing an up-tempo style of play at that point and even earned a playoff berth. But though expectations for this year were fueled by the offseason acquisition of Elton Brand, the Sixers have yet to play with any consistency.
Cheeks was asked if there were any parallels between this year and last. He said he hoped that would be the case. But he sidestepped the question of whether or not the team needed a personnel shake-up to get it going.
"Whatever happens, happens," said Cheeks. "But we still have to get better defensively. We have to communicate better and not allow layups."
Cheeks added that the "identity" of the team that played so well down the stretch last year has not changed. He said, "We still want to create turnovers and get out in the open court." He pointed out that the Sixers scored 26 fastbreak points on Wednesday, but it was overlooked because of the loss.
Cheeks conceded that the Sixers have let some games get away. "Atlanta, we probably should have won," he said. "Orlando, we probably should have won. We could have won the Minnesota game. There are always games in the season that you could have or should have won."
Cheeks added that the Cavs have played at a "very high level" so far this year.
Can they sustain through the season?
Cheeks said he did not know, but added, "I hope it changes [tonight.]" *