EDDIE JORDAN WALKS the tightrope that every coach walks in the midst of a losing streak or a seemingly hopeless downward spiral.
The optimist is convinced that, with hard work and more intense teaching, things will get better. The pessimist isn't so sure.
"You're always thinking both,'' said Jordan, the 76ers' coach, as they went into last night's game against Golden State holding a painful 12-game losing streak, the franchise's longest since 2006-07.
"You're thinking you're walking right on the edge of a bottomless pit, and a loss can send you a long way down. And we've seen that. And I've always felt that way.''
Jordan began last season as the coach of the Washington Wizards. When they opened the season 1-10, missing the injured Brendan Haywood and Gilbert Arenas, team president Ernie Grunfeld pulled the plug, replacing Jordan with front office executive Ed Tapscott and subsequently with Flip Saunders. The Sixers began this season 5-6 and plummeted to 5-18.
The math shows that Jordan had six victories in his last 34 games before facing the Warriors. The Sixers went in 3-8 at home, having dropped their last five; they were 2-10 on the road, where they've lost their last eight.
So . . .
They went out and had the Warriors on a bun (free Big Macs for the announced 12,975), winning 117-101. They scored a season-high 71 points in the first half, and started the third quarter on a 20-3 run. There would be no comeback by the Warriors. The streak was over. Long live the streak.
"You feel . . . it's sickening to lose, if you lose one game or six games,'' Jordan said the other day. "It gets worse, no question about it. It's a hard thing. It tests your composure; it tests everything. Everything is hard. Every minute of the day is hard.''
This was easier. Much, much easier. They led by as many as 32.
"You believe in the principles, no matter what,'' Jordan said. "You have to have more belief. You look for adjustments, but you don't change your style of coaching; you don't change your whole demeanor. I am who I am as a coach, and I have beliefs, and I know in coaching, Jerry Sloan has his beliefs and he's had tough stretches; I know Pat Riley has his beliefs and he's had tough stretches. The same with Larry Brown. That's naming three of the top coaches in the history of basketball; they've all had tough stretches.
"I was thinking the other day, they once hung Dean Smith in effigy [at North Carolina]. It doesn't rattle me to [make me] think I'm not a good coach. We have a veteran staff here; we're not coaching wrong, and we have to make adjustments, emphasize what we need to do to get better. You have to believe in your principles. You keep teaching through your experiences, understanding there will be some ups and downs, for you and your players.''
Ed Stefanski, the Sixers' president/general manager, has made it clear that, "We're all accountable, and we're working every day to correct [the situation] - me, the staff, the players, everyone. The bottom line is to win. We've got to get better. Nobody feels sorry for you when you have injuries. I mean, in this situation, who would be happy?''
They were at least a little happier after this one. Never mind Clerveland coming in tomorrow night, or a trip to Boston Friday. In their situation, you take what you can get.
Early in the season, Jordan said, "We showed we can win. We were turning people over, we were getting out on the break, we were getting steals. We were playing teams that weren't that good at the beginning - the Knicks, the Nets twice. We beat Milwaukee, beat Charlotte. Then the injuries came. That, believe it or not, threw us off. I know other teams have injuries, but we didn't have the luxury to lose [Marreese Speights and Lou Williams].''
Through the losing, he has tinkered with his substitution rotations, unable to locate consistent firepower, admitting it was "just a gut feeling sometimes.'' He has examined execution at both ends of the floor, practice habits, all that they need to do to improve.
"You don't talk about winning the game so much,'' he said. "You talk about playing hard enough and well enough to win the game. You say, 'Let's slide better [in defensive rotations], let's defend better, let's rotate better. That will give us a chance to win.''
Or . . . face an injury-riddled opponent on the last leg of a five-game trip and leave them gasping for breath.
"Like Alka-Seltzer, if you're old enough to remember the commercial," Eddie Jordan said. "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is. That's about it."