Three games since the all star break, three blowouts. The outlier is the win, of course, but it's hard to find much meaning in any of the three. The Sixers aren't nearly as good as they were against the Spurs and they aren't as bad as they were against the Bulls and the Heat. The schedule says the Sixers should lose four of their next five, but the trend says otherwise. What should we expect?
They play up to their opponents, using the competitive juices to fuel them on both ends of the floor. They play down to their competition, finding the fuel tank empty when the "we don't have a chance" card can't be played.
Where is it supposed to come from? How do teams prevent letdowns against lesser, or evenly-matched opponents? Typically, it's the big picture. A team like the Cavs knows every game is crucial when it comes to seeding in the playoffs. A team like Miami or Chicago knows a win or a loss could mean the difference between an early summer and a trip to the playoffs. Veteran teams rely on each other, pushing themselves to be better. Some teams rely on coaches, guys who demand a high level of execution, no matter who the opponent is.
But the Sixers? Who knows. Who knows what does or doesn't motivate these guys. The good ship playoffs has just about sailed. There really aren't any veteran leaders, the one guy who maybe could've assumed that position was publicly humiliated by the coach multiple times, and I don't think he's really cut out for the role. Their best player is 26-years-old and spends most of his time taking the blame for everything that goes wrong while never getting credit when things go right. Their coach is a dillweed who cares more about condescension and baffling riddles than he does about things like set roles, motivation and communication. To put it kindly, I don't think there's a "win one for the gipper," vibe in the locker room. In fact, if you could talk to them privately and tell them, "If you guys don't play hard, we're going to fire Eddie Jordan," I doubt you'd see an uptick in the intensity level.
It's been brought up in the comments that this isn't a new trend. The Sixers have fallen victim to the trap game plenty of times over the past two seasons. Each year, they didn't really hit their stride until their backs were against the wall, somewhat, but what I've seen this season is much, much different.
If you look back, yes, the Sixers played some bad games against bad teams. They didn't shoot the ball well, they settled for too many jumpers. They did any number of things teams do to lose games, but what they never did was quit. You never got the feeling they were simply going through the motions on the floor, and while they may have been over matched from time to time, they rarely, if ever, simply conceded.
I'm talking about two games here, but what worries me is that the trend is going to become the norm. At its heart, this roster is immature. They're young. They've played some big games, but they aren't what you'd call battle tested, and most of them are more AAU than NBA. They didn't have three or four years of college to hone their craft, they learned on the fly at the highest level. They bought into a philosophy, clung to that through tough times, and relied on it to carry them through. Right now, they seem lost to me. It seems like they don't believe in what they're doing. They don't believe that if they simply do what they're told it's going to make any difference. That's a very dangerous place to be.
It leads to regression. It leads to thoughts like, "Well, this isn't going to work anyway, so I'm just going back to what worked for me for years." Young players need to be developed, they need to be taught what needs to be done to win ball games. They need to buy into what you're teaching them, and they need to see results from it. Take away consistency, take away hope, reward the wrong things, and you're bound to see the worst from an immature player. When you have a roster full of immature players, well, let's just say it's not surprising they're 12 games under .500 and it will probably get worse before it gets better.
I don't know. Maybe the most important question is if the players wind up losing interest in this season, why should we keep caring?
Here's your rotation chart from the Bulls game: