IT'S THE little things that can keep a team, no matter the sport, from pulling out a victory and instead having to accept defeat. A missed defensive assignment, lining up in the wrong spot on a foul shot and not holding on to a pick long enough were all the little deficiencies that lent to Saturday's tough 93-88 loss in Chicago. But those types of things have been a hindrance to the team all season.
Sans a superstar or multiple ones to allow talent to override mistakes, Sixers coach Doug Collins has talked all season about attention to detail. It was the point of a 10-minute, practice-ending speech Monday at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine as the team prepared for three games this week, including home games Tuesday against Minnesota and Friday against Boston before a trip to Boston on Saturday.
"At the end of the day we want to be able to close out games in a positive manner," said forward Thaddeus Young. "The last couple of games, the close games that we had, we didn't really take care of the ball. We had a few miscues on defense. We try to capitalize by watching game tape and simulating a lot of offense. We have to be a little more vocal. I think it's coming. We're still young. We're one of those teams that's maturing as we go.
"[In Chicago] there were definitely a few miscues down the stretch. We had a few switches that we didn't capitalize on. One was Rip [Hamilton] coming off [a screen] and we both went to Rip and Joakim Noah got a dunk. Another was a free-throw situation. I should have been on the side of Joakim, boxing him, me and Evan [Turner], and put Dorell [Wright] on the other side with Luol Deng. Those are things you don't have to simulate [in practice], you just have to speak up. It comes along with communication and talking to each other."
That is a subject Collins has addressed many times this season. While he looks to Young and Turner and Jrue Holiday as the foundation of the team, Collins knows there needs to be more contributions from everyone.
"We've got to do a better job of helping each other, that's all," said Collins, whose team is 10-7. "My big thing is we've got to screen better and we've got to use screens better. I watched Rip Hamilton run the same play that we run and he comes off of screens wide open and we've got to be able to do those same things.
"The game is contact and you've got to be able to play through contact. You've got to be able to screen, which is contact. You've got to be able to slow yourself down to where you can use the screen or you've got to be able to read things."
Collins has been limited as Nick Young missed the Chicago game with turf toe (his status for Tuesday is questionable) and sub Spencer Hawes hasn't been playing well of late. What was once a very deep bench has been limited. Though against the Timberwolves there's a good chance that Kwame Brown will see some time as the Sixers try to keep one of the best rebounders in the league - Kevin Love - in check.
"I've always been harder on myself than anybody else," said Hawes, who is averaging 7.2 points and 5.2 rebounds this season. "It's something that maybe I have to take a step back and take a little pressure off myself. I just have to keep working and keep grinding away until the results come. I think I'm trying to do it all at once. I have a lot of expectations for myself, as I do for the team. Every game you want to go out there and prove it.
"You have to try and pick one part of the game you can control because there's a lot of stuff in the NBA that's out of your control. If you try and focus on all that stuff you just kind of get yourself going round and round and you don't have the results. That's what I'm struggling with [finding the one thing], that's what I'm trying to figure out. I know if I can be more consistent defensive rebounding I think the other stuff usually falls into place."
Collins thinks the same for the entire team.
"He was just stressing the details and that we have to have a more concerted effort to the little things and hold ourselves to a higher standard," said Hawes of his coach's speech. "When it comes from us, that's when we'll make the next step, as opposed to hearing it from coaches every day."