Philadelphia 76ers: What Has Caused Their Struggles?

After a 3-13 start last season, the Sixers were led by Doug Collins to the 7th seed in the East with a 41-41 record.

They faced the Miami Heat in the first round. In 4 of the 5 games, the Sixers had a double-digit leads (anywhere from 11-16 points), but nonetheless the Heat came back and won 3 of those 4 games (the other game the Heat won was a blowout).

The one game that the Sixers did win was a 86-82 home victory, on Easter day. Philly went up 16, the Heat went up 6. A late 10-0 PHI run won the ball game for the Sixers. This win validated Philadelphia’s season, rebounding from a 27-55 season the year before. It also proved Doug Collins to be legitimate.

So, looking forward to 2011-2012, everyone had high hopes. A 2nd-year G/F in Evan Turner, a slimmer and “better” Andre Iguodala, the growth of Jrue Holiday, and experience with beloved former Sixer and now coach Doug Collins were big parts of it.

Turner's emergence had fans feeling optimistic.

This was enough to turn heads and say, “Wow, Philly can play basketball.” This team proved that early on, starting the season with a blistering 20-9 record, building a solid lead over the struggling Celtics in the Atlantic division. The 76er play was good for 1st in the Atlantic, and 3rd in the East. But that was then, this is now. Now, we are watching a team who is struggling to win half of their games. They blew their lead in the Atlantic and are now 1.5 games back of the Celtics with 14 to play. Their most recent losses? By over a combined 40 points to Toronto and Washington, two of the worst teams in the NBA.

The question is, what happened? Why did the Sixers start 20-9, and since then are 9-15? How did this team that started out so well drop to seventh in the conference, turning from Eastern Conference semifinal favorites to underdogs in a possible first-round matchup with Miami?

The causes of the collapse are fourth quarter meltdowns, injuries, and the team’s youth.

Early in the year, back to when some called the Sixers a top 5 team in the NBA, Philadelphia was slaughtering teams with the fast break and their lethal weapon, sharpshooter Jodie Meeks. They would start by playing hard, intense defense. This would lead to a turnover and then a Jodie Meeks wing three-pointer or to a throw down slam dunk from Andre Iguodala to get a rise out of the crowd.

Early on, the Sixers knocked off teams like the Hawks, Bulls, Pacers, and Lakers; beating the Hawks by 14, Bulls by 16, and Pacers by 10. They beat the Lakers in a rare comeback win thanks to clutch play from “Sweet” Lou Williams. But now, teams have figured out the way the 76ers play.

This team's inability to create fast break opportunities slowed the 3-point barrages of Williams and Meeks.

Other teams figured out that they could not turn the ball over and if they did, to get back fast. They realized that if you are careful with the ball, and take your time on offense, the Sixers could not run on fast break. If they got back in time, Jodie Meeks would not go on a three-point rampage. One flaw of the offense the Sixers run is that they live on transition points, because their half-court offense is suspect. Once you take away the open floor, you take away Philadelphia’s chance of winning.

The Bulls figured this out and beat us by 5 and 9 points respectively. The Spurs figured it out and won by 10 and 17 points. The Clippers figured it out and beat us late thanks to star point guard Chris Paul.

The only team that did not beat us this way was the Miami Heat. They beat us with superstars who showed up in the fourth quarter – of course, we’re talking about the successful LeBron James, not the guy who flopped in last year’s NBA Finals.

This leads me to my next point: the Sixers are too young and do not have a guy who can show up in the last period; yet. At the Wells Fargo Center, the Heat were up 6 going into the final period. They continued their onslaught in the fourth, pulling away and going up by as many as 23. The reason this happens is because the basket got smaller for the Sixers and it grew for the Heat. Our boys started to brick easy floaters off the rim. They started to miss while Wade, Bosh, and James shot the ball extremely well.

Another example is a home loss to the Chicago Bulls. Andre Iguodala received an inbound pass, was wide open, and had time to shoot. The Sixers were down by 2, with only a minute and a half left. Iguodala took a three-pointer and air-balled it, bricking away the team’s last gasp against the Eastern Conference’s top team.

In the fourth quarter this season, in games that are separated by 6 points or less, Iguodala actually averages an air ball (yes, no joke). Lou Williams, whom the Sixers relied heavily upon to win games earlier this year, has thrown up shots in the final seconds that came up short.

In a game in Milwaukee, one that the Sixers lost 97-93, Lou went on a huge run by himself in the final minute, but came up short on a floater in the last ten seconds. Many Sixers, even Lou, can be blamed for some of these losses.

In many of these games which have been decided by four or less, a missed layup has been the deciding factor. Since all the players on this team are 6’2″ or taller, why not simply dunk the ball? It’s beyond me. This team suffers from the lack of experience from their best players. This lack of experience means they aren’t used to these tight, must-win games. The youth of this club has hurt their confidence and their ability to make shots in the final minutes. Once these guys age a bit, this team will win these close games and will begin to win more games.

Hawes was effective early in the season, but his injury hampered the rotation and his own capabilities.

Another thing that has hurt the Sixers is Spencer Hawes’ injury. When they had Hawes, they had an unpredictable passing center, who could throw down dunks and shoot medium to long range jump shots. He helped them to many wins early on in the season. The fact that he got injured and missed most of the season messed up the rotation of players and their offensive flow. If he had been consistent and played most of the season, they might be in a better position right now.

Even so, the Bulls win without D-Rose, so the Sixers will have to learn how to win without one of their main players.

Lastly, a flaw in Doug Collins’ coaching has bruised this team. In close games, Collins goes to the exact same player every time, the aforementioned Williams Williams. He runs the exact same play, a Lou Williams corner three pointer. Unfortunately, teams have learned to double Lou at the end of games, forcing misses out of the once-clutch guard. Collins needs to be creative, perhaps working in Turner or Holiday on drives or even looking down low to one of his big men (Vucevic, Young, Brand, etc.).

In addition, he consistently puts in offensive substitutions when defense should be his main concern. He leaves Lou and Jodie Meeks in for stretches of time when they are being torn up by opposing guards. Collins needs to rotate more effectively, bringing in offensive players when offense is needed and then subbing them out for more athletic, defensively-minded guys when the time comes for a stop.

Maybe go to Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, or Elton Brand. If he switched defenders or subbed a better defender in, the scoring from the opposing stars will go down, resulting in a win. These mistakes have continued to hurt us throughout the year.

Looking back, an injury, youth, the lack of a star, and coaching mistakes have seen us go from 20-9 to 29-24, dropping from 3rd in the East to 7th, 1st in the Atlantic to a 1.5 games behind the surging Celtics. The Sixers play the the Magic tonight and a crucial game against the Celtics on Easter.


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Categories: 76ers, Editorial

Author:Austin Krell

Sixers beat writer and NBA analyst

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