When the regular season schedule first came out a couple of months ago, I predicted that the Sixers would win their season opener by beating the Heat. Well, I also thought the Heat would win their opener over the Celtics and would fall victim of the trap game with Philly in anticipation of their following game against Orlando. Wrong on both counts. Nevertheless, the 76ers were able to do something in their season opener and that is make NBA history, though it's not the good kind of history. The starting five of Holiday, Iguodala, Kapono, Brand, and Hawes became the first starting unit to not have a single free throw attempt in a game. EVER. You know what that tells me? There was a lack of aggressiveness by those players, particularly Iguodala and Holiday who never seemed to grasp the concept of going hard to the hole and drawing a foul. LeBron and D-Wade did it and took 18 foul shots between them and it wasn't like there was a large disparity between the two teams in fouls called as Miami committed just four fewer fouls than Philly. The need to get to the line early and often became even more apparent in the Sixers' second game vs. Atlanta.
It took six quarters but the need to attack the rim finally got through to the Sixers during halftime of their game with the Hawks. Philadelphia attempted 22 free throws in the second half which was their only winning half up to that point. That is something that will be imperative going forward as this team won't win 10 games if they solely rely on jumpshots. During the game vs. Atlanta, the Sixers shot 6 of 28 (21.4%) on long-range two-pointers (over 15 feet). That would be bad for a junior high team much less a professional one. We did manage to shoot 68% from three which makes you wonder why we only took 11 three point shots. Our designated "zone buster," Jason Kapono, missed his only shot attempt in eight minutes of action in what was likely his last start of the season.
Going into Game 3 I had high hopes as a matchup with the Pacers seemed to be a very winnable game. Miami was the preseason favorite in the east and Atlanta was coming off a 53-win season but the Pacers lost 50 games last year and we beat them in Indiana. Everything looked good through the first 14 minutes of the game but then the floodgates opened. From the 10 minute mark in the second quarter to the 10-minute mark in the fourth quarter, the Pacers outscored the Sixers 63 to 35. Not the Lakers, not the Heat, not even the Suns...THE INDIANA PACERS, and the bulk of their run came with many of the Sixers starters on the court. The inability of Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams to slow down the opposing team's point guards was troubling to watch, especially on Holiday's part as many people (including myself) thought he would be one of the best defensive point guards in the game. Darren Collison is no John Wall (more on him later) but he was able to penetrate with ease and had as many shot attempts in the paint as Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes combined. Doug Collins is supposed to be a defensive mastermind but through the first three games, the Sixers were allowing opponents to shoot 61.4% on all shots within 10 feet of the goal. That ranked second worst in the league trailing only the Washington Wizards.
Speaking of those Wizards, the Sixers matchup with them was the conglomeration of all the negative points during the first three games and still it took the luckiest shot Cartier Martin will ever hit in the NBA to send the game into OT. But the game should have never even gotten to that point if we had corrected out mistakes from the previous games. We got to the line 29 times but you have to remember that: A. it was an overtime game so stats are exaggerated. B. 17 of those attempts came from Lou Williams and no other player had more than four attempts. C. our 29 attempts pales in comparison to the 43 attempts that Washington got. Since we weren't able to get to the line as often as we hoped, how did we do on our outside shots? We go 15 for 40 on anything beyond 15 feet and neglect dumping the ball inside in overtime even though we were +16 in points in the paint. So what about stopping or at least slowing down the opposing point guard? By now, anyone who watched the game or even highlights of the game is aware that John Wall had his "Welcome to the NBA" game and nearly messed around and got a triple double. It seemed that every time he got the ball he was blowing by his defender (and always to the right) for a layup. The stats don't lie: Wall went 7-8 on shots at the rim and there was not a single charge drawn on him. These are the little things that separate winning from losing and we clearly have not realized that yet.
Though it may all seem as doom and gloom for this year's Sixers, you have to remember a couple of key things. First, we are, after all, a "new" team in that there are many new faces who will need time to gel together. Once such player is Spencer Hawes who doesn't really look healthy after missing time in preseason with a back injury. His 3.5 ppg and 2.5 rpg aren't even half of what we can expect once he gets healthy and familiar with the offense and his teammates. Also, the schedule hasn't been favorable for us (at least at home) with two playoff teams facing us in our first two games. Thus, we don't have any "bad losses" at home and hopefully I can still say that after we play Indiana and Cleveland next. Individually, there have been some surprises thus far; most noteworthy is that we can confirm that Elton Brand does have a pulse. I asked for 15 and seven and he's giving us 16 and nine and is active on the defensive end. And what about Lou Williams? He's looking like a young Bobby Jackson or Ben Gordon and could make a run at the Sixth Man of the Year Award like those two players did.
It is not time to panic yet because the effort is there: we're playing hard but we're just not playing smart. Collins is a smart guy so that should rub off on his team. I think we are a team finding its identity at the moment and just needs some confidence to start rolling and hopefully that will start on Wednesday's rematch with the Pacers.