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The Skid Continues

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Kevin Love calmly sank two free throws with 0.1 showing on the clock to extinguish the Sixers hopes of snapping a two-game losing streak on the road in Minnesota. Two things led to Love getting to the line, but those two things were merely symptoms, not the cause of the loss. (game capsule).

Here's your rotation chart. I highlighted the first and last units, mainly to show how long Collins stuck with those two lineups:

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OK, I'll spend a couple seconds on the two things that led to Love getting the fateful freebies. First of all, if anyone in the world didn't know exactly what the Sixers were going to do with their final offensive possession, they haven't seen the Sixers play a game this season. Lou Williams isolation to get the last shot. There was a 3-second difference between the shot clock and the game clock, the Sixers held a one-point lead. Lou dribbled the air out of the ball out near mid-court, but for some reason the ball left his hands with 3 seconds left on the shot clock and 6 seconds left on the game clock. He missed the shot, Love got the rebound and Minnesota called a timeout with 3.6 seconds left. If Lou waits another second or two, Love probably doesn't have enough time to drive to the hoop on the final play. On that Love drive, Iguodala got his hand on the ball, then Love's shot attempt was blocked by Elton Brand. The whistle blew. Love went to the line. Game over. I don't think it was a foul. I think if it was anyone other than a superstar on the drive, the foul wouldn't have been called on Iguodala (who gets his share of defensive star non-whistles), but whatever. It happens. You put yourself in a situation to lose, you probably aren't going to get the breaks, especially when the other team has a superstar.

Now let's talk about why they were in a situation where the T-Wolves were even close enough to have a shot on their final possession. The Sixers didn't play Sixers ball in the second half especially. On the game, they had 14 assists on 40 made field goals. That's a shockingly low number for a team with so many "playmakers." Too much isolation, too many shots off the dribble. Too many long twos. And again, they didn't get the production they need from their perimeter guys. Jrue had 20 points, which is the number that seems to drive people crazy, but it took him 20 shots to get there. He didn't hit a single three, he didn't get to the line once. 20 points on 20 shots is not a good game, it's treading water. He also only handed out two assists. For the record, if Jrue plays even 20 minutes a night like he played the first 6 minutes or so of this game, he'd be unbelievable. He was shot out of a cannon and super-aggressive on both ends. It disappeared as quickly as it came, though. His defense on Rubio in the first half was sub-par as well, though you can't really blame him for giving Rubio the looks from three early on, that was their game plan from the get-go, to have him dig down on the bigs whenever they touched the ball. He had to adjust later, and did a pretty good job from then on. The same can't be said for the bigs, who just did a terrible job of covering up the rollers on the pick-and-roll. Allen and Vucevic were essentially helpless on those plays, unless you consider watching a Montenegran dunk or fouling him so he can't dunk helpful.

Meeks and Turner combined to shoot 6/15 from the floor for 13 points. Neither made a trip to the line. Lou shot 5/12 for 13 points (with two freebies). Lou was pretty bad most of the night, but got a little bit hot in the fourth when they needed scoring. Until he missed his cajones shot at the end. Speaking of that shot, and I know I said I wouldn't speak about it again, given the flow of the game, it was kind of an odd choice. One we don't question that much because Collins does it all the time, but Lou hadn't hit a shot in almost 7 minutes when he got his number called, and the Sixers weren't exactly struggling to find offense down the stretch. They scored 8 points on their previous 7 possessions, and they scored in a variety of ways. A nice feed to Brand that resulted in freebies. Two nice conversions by Jrue at the hoop, and then Iguodala penetration leading to a wide-open look from Thad which gave them the lead with 40 seconds to go. Every one of those options were open to Collins. Or they could've done something they didn't try a single time all night that I can remember. Isolate Thad Young at the foul line with either Kevin Love or Nikola Pekovic guarding him. A clear mismatch for Thad to drive by either slow-footed big man for a shot at the rim. I guess you don't do crazy things like that when you've got a closer like Lou Williams at your disposal.

Anyway, the defensive boards were an issue, but not as big of an issue as I expected. The thing that undid the Sixers was sending Minnesota to the line. The T-Wolves didn't shoot well at all on the game, but Pekovic, Love and Rubio combined to attempt 24 from the line, making 17.

In terms of an overall theme, this game was eerily similar to the Dallas game. The Sixers built up a sizable lead, let their opponents back into the game, and then a PF who they had absolutely no answer for, suddenly got hot and carried their opponent to the win. In both games, if the Sixers don't go into a prolonged slump and let the other team back in the game, the superstar getting hot wouldn't have meant a thing, but they did, and it did.

Over the past seven games, the Sixers have won two against bad teams and dropped five to teams at or above .500. Three of those losses were really demoralizing (1-point loss to the Clips on the Chris Paul shot, blowing a 15-point lead against the Mavs and tonight's Kevin Love free throws). Good teams go through stretches like this. Even elite teams go through stretches like this. In fact, if a really good team goes through a stretch like this that drops their record to only 8-games over .500, no one is really worried about it. The problem for the Sixers is that no one believes they're an elite team. Or maybe to be fair, no one believes, in their heart, that they're anything more than the .500 team that lost in the first round last season. They played excellent basketball over the first 25 games, but that's not enough capital in the bank, that's not enough faith that what we've seen over the past seven games is the aberration, and the excellent play was the norm. In fact, this stretch of play shakes you to the core. Makes you feel like a fool for believing. It's like getting the rug pulled out from under you and you start to believing what everyone was saying about the Sixers when they were trying to prove everyone wrong.

So where do we go from here? Well, that depends on the team. If they bounce back and pick up a couple of wins on Wednesday and Thursday, maybe this stretch was a blip. Maybe this poor play was indicative of a team being slightly off during a tough stretch of games and they'll head into the All Star break with a head of steam. If the slump continues through the All Star break, though, well, no one wants to feel like this with nearly a full week of off days. And the doubts may start with the faithful, but they have to land on Rod Thorn's desk before long, because there are some realities this team is going to have to face this summer, realities that elite play pushed to the back burner, but if the elite play disappears for good, well then you need to consider what to do with Lou Williams before the March 15th trade deadline.

Let's not jump off any bridges just yet, though. This team has surprised us in the past, and they have the ability to do it again. When you take a closer look at this stretch, it's really not what the 2010 Sixers would've done, anyway. The 2010 version would've gone 2-5, but the 2 wins would've been over good teams and 2 of the losses would've been against bad teams. I guess that's progress, or at least it's a semblance of consistency, if you feel like grasping at straws.

Player of The Game: Iguodala. He wasn't great, but he was the best the Sixers had tonight. And I'm mostly giving him this reward for five plays he made in the final 2:24 of the game. The penetration and feed to Thad for the go-ahead hoop. Three huge defensive rebounds in traffic. And the defensive play that should've ended the game. Five "winning" plays in a little under two-and-a-half minutes.
Team Record: 20-12
Up Next: @MEM, Wednesday night.
Jrue's Goal: Fail tonight. 0 FTA to 1 turnover. Good job keeping the turnovers low, terrible job in taking 20 shots and not getting to the line a single time. (2/4 since inception).
by Brian on Feb 20 2012
Tags: Basketball | Minnesota Timberwolves | Post Game | Sixers |