Since taking over as the 76ers' head coach, Doug Collins has pretty much been right on with what he thought would happen to the team.

He said a slow start would be a strong possibility, being that he is a new coach trying to learn about new players and implementing a system that would best suit them. He also said that after 20 games or so, he probably would have a better gauge as to where this team is.

Thursday night's home loss to the Boston Celtics told a lot. While the team has made tremendous strides since the beginning of the season, it is still not a team that can pull out a win from the jaws of defeat.

"They shot 56 percent from the field and 90 percent from the free throw line," Collins said of the Celtics, who won on a layup by Kevin Garnett with 1.4 seconds remaining to drop the Sixers to 7-15. "I told our team that if you look at our stats, we have the stats of a team that should have 12 wins right now. We're outshooting our opponents, outrebounding our opponents and the point differential is minus-point five [per game].

"There are nine games where the game was in the balance with 5 minutes to go, and we didn't win any of them. You get half of those and you're a 12-win team and you're in the playoffs right now. We know we're getting better. [Thursday] night we scored, we just couldn't get the stops we needed to get the win."

The biggest one they didn't get was on the last play of the game, when point guard Rajon Rondo took an inbounds pass with 6.6 seconds left and a one-point deficit, calmly worked a pick-and-roll with Garnett that produced an easy layup and gave the Celtics the win.

"We know that it's there, all the close games we should have won," Jrue Holiday said after yesterday's practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "It feels like we put in all this work just to [have it taken away] with one play. It hurts. That's definitely a big game. We had that chance to win."

Something that has been said repeatedly after so many games this season. But Thursday's loss came against a team that posted its ninth straight win and, right now, is the best team in the East. To stay close and feel they should have won is a big boost for the young Sixers.

"I think we know where we want to go," Collins said. "That team [Boston] is one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. We did a good job of moving the ball. We just couldn't get the win."

In the past few games, Collins has shortened his bench, mainly relying on only Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams to supply big minutes to relieve the starters. With tomorrow's game at home against New Orleans, which starts a streak of five games in 7 days, the rotation probably will grow.

"We're 1-10 on the road, and there's so much pressure on us to win home games," Collins said. "I've had a chance to play guys more minutes because we've had some off days. But now we have five games in 7 days, and I told the guys that. We've got to get some guys back playing. I feel really good about that seven-man rotation and now I've got to change things back. I think these guys all know that I've been true to my word that if you play and you play well, you're going to be out there. Minutes are precious and when you're out there, earn the right to stay out there. Make my decisions difficult."

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