IS IT STARTING to get worse than anyone even imagined? Are the 76ers a team that is going to consistently give up huge numbers, get embarrassed game after game for the remainder of the season, with the only bright spot being a high pick in next year's top-heavy draft?

Over the past two games they have given up a total of 269 points, 42 three-pointers, allowed the Portland Trail Blazers and Brooklyn Nets to shoot a combined 99-for-171 (57.9 percent) and were outscored by 70 points. Throw in that Brooklyn's Joe Johnson poured in more points in the third quarter on Monday (29) than the Sixers scored as a team in six of their eight quarters of the two games.

But more than the lopsided numbers, it appears as if things are getting worse. Before, the losses were always respectable, meaning talent was winning out over the Sixers (7-19). That was expected to happen a lot this season, but it seems as if effort is now being questioned. Losing due to a lack of talent is one thing. Losing and not giving maximum effort is never acceptable.

The problem isn't one that is due to a separation of coach and team. If there is anything that has been apparent this early season it is that first-year coach Brett Brown and his players are in this rebuilding battle together. Brown has been exceptional at being blatantly honest with his players about what this year entails. He has told the young players that he wants to groom them into NBA-caliber players, whether it be here or elsewhere. He has anointed Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner the cornerstones of the team, with all fully knowing that one, or all, could be gone before next season.

And as much as the little victories - a player developing a better shot, improving defensively, buying into the "career-best health" preached by the coach - are a boost to Brown, these players are looking for just one reward, and that is winning.

That is something the Sixers haven't done much lately. They've lost seven in a row, 11 consecutive road games and 15 of their last 17. To say the mood in the locker room following the Nets disaster was surly would be a gross understatement.

"When you give up 140 2 nights in a row you have to look at everything," said Hawes, who scored just two points against Brooklyn. "There's a right way to play basketball and there's a wrong way to play basketball, and on both ends we played it the wrong way. Execution, effort, selfishness, it's pretty simple. There's a right way and a wrong way and we didn't do it the right way."

The non-existent defense has been the crux of the troubles. In the past two games in particular, and for much of the past 10 games or so, offenses have seemed to have their choice of how they wanted to score.

"We have to get guys off three-point lines and make them take layups and tough twos instead of threes," said Young. "There's a lot of miscues on defense and we can't have that. We have to go back to the drawing board in practice and work on things that we didn't do the past few games."

Asked if there needs to be an overhaul defensively or a simplification, Young interrupted the questioner. "No. No. It doesn't need to be simplified or anything like that," he said. "Everything is simple when we're playing defense. We just have to go out there and just man up and play."

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