Since the beginning of training camp, there has been a serious battle between two players on the 76ers. When they are matched up, there are well-placed elbows and lowered shoulders barreled into the each other's chest to clear space, and no drive to the basket goes without some serious contact.
Veteran Royal Ivey hails from Harlem, N.Y., and though he is only 6-3, 200 pounds, he has a will inside to battle that is almost as big as his trash-talking vocabulary. His partner in these bruising dances is Philly's own Maalik Wayns, a rookie who is a bit shorter than Ivey at 6-2, but carries a more solid frame. Neither participant backs down, and sometimes it makes you wonder whether Ivey is playing the good veteran by showing the rookie the NBA ropes or whether it is just that his competitive nature takes over.
Watching those two clash reminds you what sports is all about, but it also brings another thought to mind. How could this team, only eight games into the season after a lopsided loss to the previously winless Detroit Pistons, not seem to consistently possess the competitive nature Ivey and Wayns exhibit?
During the course of an 82-game season, there will be duds. Whether it is because of a long road trip, a series of injuries or just an opponent who is far superior on that given night, there are times when a team's game never makes it to the floor.
That appeared to be the case on Monday when, after winning three straight games on the road, the Sixers hosted the Milwaukee Bucks at the Wells Fargo Center and were dealt a nine-point loss. It was the team's sixth game in 9 nights, so the obvious thought was that coach Doug Collins' team was suffering from heavy legs. But Collins ended his postgame news conference that night talking of his players having "heavy minds," meaning they weren't mentally prepared to play.
Wednesday, the team hit a low in this early season, allowing the Pistons, though much better than their 0-8 record indicated, to come in and physically manhandle them, 94-76.
Afterward, Collins was virtually speechless, claiming that for one of the few times in his tenure here, he questioned his team's desire to compete.
"I have no idea why. I really don't. I don't know how many times I asked the coaches on the sideline what's going on. I have no idea," Collins said.
"We don't have much size on the front line. We're small. We just don't have much physicality. I learned a long time ago, you can talk all you want to talk, but, at some point in time . . . I have no answers why we were so flat. I have no idea. We had no energy. Eight games in the season, it's like 'Why?' "
Anytime effort is questioned, red flags aren't far behind. There are possible reasons, as the team has had to deal with the constant questions about the injured Andrew Bynum, with whom they haven't shared the court once. There is the unfamiliarity with one another, as, not including Bynum, there are eight new faces on the roster.
But those are reasons for the play not to be sharp. There never should be a question of effort, not after eight games, not after 48 games and not after 82. The unwritten law for any professional athlete is that he show up and play as hard as he can, no matter the situation.
"I knew there was going to be growing pains," Collins said. "We start out the season and we find out Andrew isn't going to be able to play, and we're adjusting to that. Then J-Rich [Jason Richardson] and Kwame [Brown] got hurt, so we play without them. We're still trying to figure out who we are. But the disappointing thing more than anything was the total lack of effort. That was the most disappointing thing for me. One of the things that we've always tried to pride ourselves on in this city is this team we put out on the floor every single night is reflective of hard work and blue-collar and toughness and all things that Philadelphia is. I take it so much on my own shoulders to have the answers for everything. Sometimes the answers are, you just have to go out and you have to play and be tough. You have to take the fight to somebody else. We've got to figure it out. We have shown flashes where we've gone in and done things the right way, but we have to do them consistently. We've got to see who we are. We're going to have to be tougher. Last year, we didn't have a big team, either, so that's a problem.
"Every time I turn around, it's how do you get guys off of you so we can run a play. Energy comes from within. I wake up at 6 in the morning and I'm ready to roll. I don't understand it."
Collins shouldn't have to understand that. It shouldn't be part of his job description.