PHILADELPHIA -- You've got the best team in basketball in your building and your playoff life is in jeopardy.
The slouching Sixers
And you play like this?
When this team should be peaking for the playoffs, instead it is on a slide, having lost 10 of its last 12, including four that Allen Iverson missed due to injury.
This was an organization that coming into the season had rising hopes, with an expectation that some young talent (Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver, Samuel Dalembert etc.) would develop and the team would keep improving with a superstar in AI.
That hasn't happened. It turns out that Maurice Cheeks, in my opinion, is too laid back a coach for this particular Sixers team. It's one thing if Philly had a veteran team that knows the ropes and didn't need a coach to drive them. That is not this team.
This is a team that is still learning, so strong direction is needed. Allen Iverson has been to NBA Finals. Chris Webber hasn't gotten there yet. And the rest of the team doesn't have any significant experience with playoffs success.
Philadelphia (32-38) is now just 1 ½ games ahead of Chicago for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The good news for the Sixers: they play a home-and-home with the woeful Knicks, starting Friday. But even New York won't be an easy mark, given the way Philly is playing. Also on the horizon are two games with Chicago, April 5 and April 8.
Even though they're behind in the standings, I'll take Chicago in the battle for the No. 8 spot, because of its consistent defensive effort. A lack of same is one of Philadephia's problems.
The winner of this series gets to play the Pistons. Nice. The Sixers actually won one game in the best-of-7 last year with Detroit. If they are fortunate enough to hold on, even a single win would be tough.
Check that -- make it impossible, unless they adjust their effort level.
Tim Legler, an NBA analyst for ESPN and former NBA 3-point champion, is a regular contributor to Insider.
Terrence Vaccaro/Getty Images
Grizzlies forward Pau Gasol is greeted by cagey Nets defender Clifford Robinson. Memphis fell to Jersey, 86-74. The Nets have now won 10 straight.
I was alarmed by what I saw in Chicago the other night. The Bulls, fighting for the eighth playoff spot in the East, had a complete offensive meltdown in the fourth quarter. They just could not score. Chicago went 3-for-21 from the field, 5-for-11 from the line, turned over the ball five times and ended up blowing a nine-point lead to Orlando.
Scott Skiles has two major problems. The first is little or no post presence. Othella Harrington and Michael Sweetney did not see any action in the fourth quarter against the Magic. And while Tyson Chandler did play, he had no field goal attempts in the fourth and only two for the entire game. The Bulls use pick-roll and drive-kick plays which results in them taking a lot of jump shots. And when defenses tighten up late in the game, that rim gets awful small for some perimeter jump shooters.
Skiles' second major problem is lack of veteran leadership. Kirk Hinrich, Chris Duhon, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni and Ben Gordon are his best players and none of them has three full years of NBA experience. In time, these guys will be good or very good players, but right now, they cannot be counted on to deliver when the chips are down. Let's put it this way . . . the team they're fighting with for the eighth spot has Allen Iverson and Chris Webber. Who would you rather have with the game on the line?
The one thing Chicago has in its favor is defense. They play the best defense in the NBA. They've been holding opponents to .422 field goal percentage allowed on the season, .414 in the last 10 games and .399 in the last five games. On their defense alone, I thought they might be able to catch Philly, but after what I saw the other night in Chicago, now I'm not so sure.
-- Will Perdue
Defending against the charge that he might be burning out his starters, Flip Saunders pointed to league leaders in minutes played and cited the absence of any of the Detroit Pistons from the top 39.
Only Chauncey Billups made the top 40, checking in at the very bottom of the list at the time.
"We've started to rest them in the last week, and we know we have four weeks left in the regular season, and this will be when we get them some rest," Saunders said Tuesday at his office in the Pistons' practice facility. It's the same office that was occupied a year ago by a different coach who heard a similar criticism -- that he was overworking his starters at the expense of his reserves, especially the younger ones.
But Larry Brown is as gone from the premises as Darko Milicic, and Saunders isn't buying the argument that his starting five is being worked too hard.
Looking at each player individually, there is nothing too alarming about the workload. None of the five Pistons starters averages more than 37 minutes or fewer than 35, and the minutes per game averages for Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton and Ben Wallace are actually down a fraction from a year ago.
But taken as a whole, the numbers start to look different.
The Pistons' starters have been on the court for almost 75 percent of the total minutes the team has played this season, by far the highest percentage of any of the NBA's 30 teams. Detroit's lack of injuries has contributed to that high percentage, but each of the Pistons' top five has played the equivalent of 9.275 more full 48-minute games than each of the Miami Heat's top five.
The leader of the Cavs was feeling bright after clinching the playoffs with a win over Dallas. "I've always felt since I was drafted here that I was going to light it up like Vegas," LeBron James said. "I said that on Day One once I got drafted. It's been slow progress, but it takes a few years to put a building up in Vegas, too."
Next Step For 'Bron
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images
LeBron James made his point. Several thousand in fact: James became the youngest in NBA history to score 6,000 points at 21 years and 89 days. Kobe Bryant was the previous youngest at 22 years and 206 days.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
Maurice (Detroit, MI): Who is the best point guard in the league right now? I say Chauncey Billups.
B.J. Armstrong: The best point guard is Jason Kidd, hands down. He is the only guard in this league that can control the game without scoring a point. He can take the game from the blackboard to the court and execute the gameplan perfectly. He can also shut down the other players. Kidd is a controlled accident. He's in the right place and the right time doing the right things. When he's healthy he's the best point guard.
The Celtics (29-42) played the Knicks (19-50) Wednesday night. The 92 combined losses for the two teams are the most ever in any Boston-New York game. The previous "record" was 83, set on April 21, 1996 (New York was 46-35, Boston was 33-48).
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