WELL, THIS is not the way to enter into the hardest stretch of the season for the 76ers.
Over the next 19 days, starting Tuesday in Dallas, the Sixers will play 11 games, including 10 on the road. They will play at least some of them, maybe most of them, without their star point guard, Jrue Holiday. Holiday tested his sprained left foot Monday at practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and said that he was able to do some things, but that pushing off still hurts.
What's hurting the team, besides Holiday's absence, is its inability to defend the three-point shot and its struggles to get to the foul line.
Over the past 13 games, the team is 5-8. During that span, opponents have shot 94-for-236 (39.8 percent) from three-point range and 228-for-296 (77 percent) from the free-throw line. By comparison, the Sixers have gone 67-for-209 (32 percent) from three and made 171 of 248 (68.9 percent) of their foul shots. When added together, the Sixers have been outscored, 510-372, in that 13-game span from the three-point line and foul line combined.
It's alarming, and somewhat understandable at the same time, but still a remedy for disaster. In Jason Richardson, Nick Young, Dorell Wright and Holiday, the team has, for the most part, players who have proved to be above-average three-point shooters. But that certainly hasn't been the case this season. And it is directly related to the team's inability to get to the foul line. They simply can't do either without some sort of inside presence.
Without the Sixers having that inside threat, teams can jump out on their outside shooters, either forcing them to take contested threes or making them put the ball on the floor. Besides Holiday, no one is very good at both shooting the three and penetrating. Thus, shots become forced and drives to the basket are seldom. When that's the case, there won't be very many foul shots taken.
Consider one other stat: In half of the Sixers' 24 games this season, the opposition has made more foul shots than the Sixers have taken.
And now comes this hellish stretch of games with only one at home - against the surprising Atlanta Hawks and Lou Williams.
Asked whether this was the toughest part of the schedule, Holiday replied: "I think it is. I think this is where, as a team, we're going to come together. I think we play really well on the road, so it's going to be fun."
That is certainly an optimistic way of looking at things, especially the way the team has been playing. So concerned is coach Doug Collins with his team's play that after Sunday's 111-98 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, he said: "I'm not concerned about the road, because I don't think we play any differently at home or on the road. I'm concerned about us playing the kind of basketball we have to play to win consistently. And, defensively right now, we're nowhere near being able to win a basketball game."
Whether home or away, the type of basketball being displayed isn't a winning one. Perhaps the road will be a place to right some wrongs. Really, there is no other choice over the next few weeks.
In the Sixers' 12 losses this season, opponents are averaging 8.3 three-pointers, vs. 5.7 in the team's 12 wins . . . The Sixers will play the second game of the back-to-back in Houston Wednesday before returning home to face the Atlanta Hawks on Friday . . . Kobe Bryant's 34 points on Sunday were the second most he's scored in 16 regular-season games in Philadelphia. His high was 44 on Dec. 12, 2002.