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An Uneasy Feeling

It's funny, to find out how the Sixers are playing a casual fan doesn't have to watch the games, check the box scores, listen to the WIP or read the Inquirer. All he has to do is check the comments section right here. If the Sixers are playing well, the conversation will veer toward under-appreciated players, smart coaching moves and playoff seeding. If they're playing poorly, it's mostly trade rumors and no one is safe. It's my fault. I'm prone to wild emotional swings when this team is concerned, and honestly I'm about one disappointing performance away from crisis mode.

Teams go on runs, they win five straight, drop three, then win five more. It happens all the time. Three sub-par performances in a row isn't typically something to be too concerned with, especially when you win one of the games and lose another on a buzzer-beater, but I'm starting to worry.

The major disadvantage of a horrendous two months to open the season is that you lose your margin for error. The goal for this team has to be the #5 seed. It's easily within reach. If they don't get this ship righted quickly, though, that goal is going to slip further and further from their grasp.

The frustrating thing about this slide is the root cause, perimeter defense. There is no logical reason why this team should get torched from deep, but when things aren't going well, they do. Over the past three, their opponents have shot 45% from deep (32/83). We aren't talking about a team like the Spurs, either. The Mavs don't go to the post and the Sixers didn't double Dirk. They played him straight up and the Mavs still found a way to hit 8 threes. The Knicks have nothing on the inside, I mean, not even the hint of a post presence, nor do they have a player who warrants a double team. They hit 15 threes. On Monday, the Hornets were without their two bigs, David West and Tyson Chandler. There was no doubling in the post, and they hit 14 threes. What's going to happen when they face a team that does have a post threat?

I can't boil down the reason. It's either a problem with the system or a problem with how the players execute the system. It could be a trust thing, where guys cheat off their assignments to cover for someone else. Often, you see this happen when there's no reason for it. It could be over-aggressiveness on the part of the coaches. They play the passing lanes and trap by design. Maybe they do too much of it. There's definitely some personal responsibility here as well. Willie Green gets lost on the baseline more than any player I've had the privilege of watching. Run Willie off a screen or two and you're sure to wind up with an open three from the corner.

One final explanation is the all-out running offense. Far too often, three or four guys head up the floor before the defensive rebound is secured. This leads to long offensive boards and wide-open looks for the opponents who haven't gotten back on defense. If one of the bigs can grab the board, there's almost always an easy opportunity on the other end. If it takes a funny bounce, or the bigs just don't secure the ball, it's a huge disadvantage.

Those are all the reasons I could come up with, I suppose it's probably a combination of the bunch. If they're going to turn this ship around, they need to make drastic improvements to their three-point defense. It's going to start with a concerted effort to stop the pick and roll at the top of the key. Elton Brand did a great job of doubling the guard on this play the other night, they need that type of effort from Dalembert, Evans, Speights and Thad. That's step one. Step two is accountability.

Coach DiLeo has used a firm hand in disciplining Marreese Speights for lazy play, he needs to do the same with his back-court players when their man shakes loose for a couple of open threes. Get them out of there and let them think about what they've done for a couple of minutes on the bench. This goes for everyone.

Solve this problem, and I firmly believe the past three games will be a blip, rather than a trend. Continue to leave shooters open and we're going to be seeing an awful lot of speculation in the comments over the next couple of months.

I have one final comment, then we'll let the discussion fly. This bad streak has absolutely nothing to do with Elton Brand. He's had zero impact on the offensive end, positive or negative. He's been a big plus on the defensive end and he's done a fine job on the boards. He hasn't made the offense stagnant. He hasn't been the reason teams are raining threes on the Sixers. Any talk of Brand bringing this team down, or of the past two games being indicative of Brand's affect on this team in the long run is grossly premature. Give the guy a chance to get up to speed, or at least give him a chance to get back into the starting lineup before you crucify him. I know the beat writers and columnists won't be that patient, but I think we can handle it here. We're all adults.
by Brian on Jan 28 2009
Tags: Basketball | Elton Brand | Sixers |