CLEVELAND - This was damning. Not because the 76ers lost. They've lost eight of their last 10 games. Not because they again got off to a reasonably good start, then couldn't sustain it. They've done that a bunch of times.
This was damning because of what seeped out of the locker room after the 88-72 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers that left the Sixers 9-14.
"It was more us than them, I think," Andre Iguodala said quietly. "We just didn't have the mental toughness down the stretch. We just kind of gave in. I'm not saying we didn't continue to play hard. We just didn't execute. We didn't get the stops we needed to get at important times.
"We're just not executing the way we should be on both ends of the court. We've just got to work on getting it done. That's all it comes down to. We know what we've got to do. It's just, for whatever reason, we're a split second late. We're indecisive on both ends."
After that, Iguodala said, "We've just got to get it back tomorrow."
That would be tonight, when they host the Washington Wizards in the Wachovia Center. The Wizards are 4-16, having matched the worst start in franchise history, but the Sixers have dropped their last five at home.
"We've been through this situation before," Iguodala said. "It can wear on you."
The Sixers took no solace in the knowledge that they had just lost to a Cavs team that had matched a franchise record with its 11th straight victory, that had increased its best-ever start to 20-3, and that had rung up 19 victories in 20 games for the first time ever.
The Sixers also played without backup guard Lou Williams, who was suffering from what a Cavaliers doctor diagnosed as a case of food poisoning.
"We're pressing, especially at home," Elton Brand said, absorbing the latest loss and trying to look ahead. "We want to win for our fans, and rightfully so. They're anxious for us to win."
As for how to get that done, Brand said, "The thing is, if we can't find a way, we have to make a way."
The Sixers found their way to an eight-point lead in the first quarter, with Willie Green scoring 11 points, Samuel Dalembert taking six of his team's 11 rebounds and Brand contributing four points, three rebounds and three assists. But, as has too frequently been the case, that didn't last. They were down by 13 at halftime, as close as nine late in the third period and down as many as 18 in the fourth.
The challenge was too great last night. They didn't have the staying power to hang with the Cavs, who have won by an average of 19.8 points through their current streak. This time, Cleveland was without starting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas (sprained left ankle) and third guard Daniel "Boobie" Gibson (sprained big toe), but it didn't seem to matter. LeBron James put together 28 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three blocks; fill-in starting center Anderson Varejao contributed 17 points, seven rebounds and two blocks; Delonte West added 16 points; and Mo Williams finished with 14.
Green, starting his second game at shooting guard, led the Sixers with 19 points. Iguodala had 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists, and Brand managed 11 points and 11 rebounds. Brand wore protective sleeves on both knees and a double set of tights under his uniform to try to keep his hamstrings warm. He was playing his second game after missing two with a strained hamstring.
"They're a good team," Cheeks said of the Cavs. "The first quarter, we scored 25 points. I thought our offense was good, I thought our defense was good. They just keep coming. We ended up with 20 turnovers. We can't afford to have the turnovers we had. They just keep pushing. They just keep coming.
"The way we score is with early offense. We did a nice job early on. Some turnovers hurt us, some offensive rebounds hurt us. That allowed them to get in their type [of game]."
In effect, the Cavs focused sharply on taking away what the Sixers do best.
"Against a team like this, you have to focus on getting back in transition," James said after the Cavs limited the Sixers to only 47 points over the final 36 minutes. "[The Sixers are] very quick. They like to get in transition and get easy buckets. They have a hard time scoring in the halfcourt, so once we decided to commit to get back in transition, it allowed us to set our defense . . . and it worked out."
Statistically, the Cavs have been a monster. In their 11-game streak, they are averaging 106.1 points, shooting 48.7 percent from the floor and never trailing in the second half. During this remarkable stretch, Ilgauskas has become the franchise's career rebounding leader, moving ahead of Brad Daugherty, and James has become the career steals leader, stepping in front of Mark Price.
Outside the Sixers locker room, Cheeks said: "I'm just going to search, keep on pushing. We have a long, long way to go. We're going to keep pushing, keep going."
The Wizards are 3-6 since replacing coach Eddie Jordan with Ed Tapscott, who was the team's director of player development/programs . . . Asked about being No. 2 to Orlando's Dwight Howard in the initial All-Star Game fan balloting for centers in the East, the Sixers' struggling Samuel Dalembert said, "I must have worked a little magic, done a little voodoo" . . . Local note: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the medical condition that caused former Cardinal Dougherty High star Cuttino Mobley, 33, to retire from the New York Knicks, is the same condition that claimed the life of former Parkway High star Daniel Rumph in 2005. *
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