Sixers optimistic down the stretch
THE SCENE told more than any defensive stop or well-executed offensive set. After the 76ers had beaten Toronto, 93-75, on Wednesday, holding the Raptors to a season-low in points at the Air Canada Centre, they sprinted to the locker room like a bunch of high school players who had just won a state championship. They whooped it up in the hallways where a plethora of old pictures depict the success of the Maple Leafs, laughing, backslapping, hollering.
THE SCENE told more than any defensive stop or well-executed offensive set.
After the 76ers had beaten Toronto, 93-75, on Wednesday, holding the Raptors to a season-low in points at the Air Canada Centre, they sprinted to the locker room like a bunch of high school players who had just won a state championship. They whooped it up in the hallways where a plethora of old pictures depict the success of the Maple Leafs, laughing, backslapping, hollering.
Fun has seemed to return to the Sixers. And just in time.
The Sixers seemed to hit their lowest point of the season last week, as rumors swirled after a sports blog post indicated coach Doug Collins had lost the team and Andre Iguodala was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying teammate Lou Williams couldn't play defense. Then came a blowout loss at Boston on Sunday, which led to a quick dip to the eighth-spot in the Eastern Conference playoff standings.
So Collins decided changes had to be made. He had already hinted, then talked openly, about his team's mental fragility; of having to coach the team while walking on eggshells so as to not shatter any egos, or hurt anyone's feelings.
But he went ahead and benched Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes anyway, two players who are not the most mild-mannered on the team.
Now two wins certainly do not a turnaround make, especially when those victories came against the New Jersey Nets and Raptors, who are a combined 36 games under .500. But the scene that took place Wednesday showed the team is in a much better mental state than it has been the past couple of weeks, when moping and negative body language were the norm.
The problem is the recent slump, which produced just nine wins in 27 games, pretty much swept away any chance of winning the Atlantic Division, and with it, any chance at a top four-seed for the playoffs and possible homecourt advantage.
So the future is daunting. Besides the eight games remaining in the regular season, which include six on the road, there will probably be another playoff appearance. There will also probably be a seventh or eighth seeding and a matchup with either Chicago or Miami. And, probably a quick exit.
The task now is to win, get back the positive attitude that oozed through the organization's veins earlier in the season and take it from there.
"This is a time that should be exhilarating," said forward Elton Brand. "It's tough, our backs are up against the wall, but we just have to step up now. The Knicks have the tiebreaker against us, but it should be fun. We were 20-9, but anything can happen in this league. Now we're in a dogfight."
Make it a gunfight. Earlier in the season, when those types of challenges presented themselves, the Sixers were well armed. But, their weapons have deteriorated to slingshots. Perhaps during these last eight games they can build up the ammunition and make things interesting again.
The Sixers finished the game in Toronto by making 13 of their final 18 shots . . . Coach Doug Collins showed his displeasure with Raptors' coach Dwane Casey after the game after Ben Uzoh took the ball in for an uncontested layup as time ran out. On their previous possession, the Sixers held the ball without a shot and committed a shot-clock violation. Normal protocol would be for the team getting whipped to end the game without a shot. Wonder what would have happened to Uzoh years ago if he had done the same thing? Forearm shiver from someone, maybe? . . . Jose Calderon left the game late in the third quarter after getting a cut over his right eye that required three stitches. When the Raptors visited the Sixers on April 4, Calderon had to leave the game briefly to get stitches over the same eye . . . The Sixers host the Nets Friday then play three games in a row: Monday in Orlando, Tuesday at home against Indiana and at Cleveland on Wednesday.