01/27/12 1:20 pm EST
For the first time in this obscure NBA season, I’m feeling a little troubled about the Sixers. Although I knew and was warned that this stretch of the schedule was coming like a ruthless hurricane, I boarded up my house and pretended it wouldn’t be that bad. After all of the good feeling Sixers “propaganda” that I have been accused of pouring out in my posts, I’ve lost a little bit of my confidence after last night’s loss.
Did we really just lose to the Nets… at home?
It’s not that I’m all of a sudden turning my back on Doug Collins and his team of young and inspired talent; I’m just worried about the storm ahead. A storm that looks really, really ugly for the Sixers young backcourt and a beat up front.
To cut to the point, the schedule for February is nothing else but exceptionally BRUTAL.
With two seemingly easy wins ahead against Charlotte and Detroit at the Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers finish up the month against a BIG Orlando team before starting this dark and cloudy stretch:
The Sixers Possible Valentines Day Massacre
Feb. 1 vs. Chicago (16-4, first in the Eastern Conference, but without Luol Deng)
Feb. 3 vs. Miami (13-5, second in the Eastern Conference)
Feb. 4 @Atlanta (13-6, sixth in the Eastern Conference)
Feb. 6 vs. LA Lakers (11-8, seventh in the Western Conference)
Feb. 8 vs. San Antonio (12-7, third in the Western Conference)
Feb. 10 vs. LA Clippers (9-6, fourth in the Western Conference)
Feb. 11 @ Cleveland (7-10, tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference)
Feb. 13 @ Charlotte (3-16)
Feb. 15@ Orlando (12-5, third in the Eastern Conference)
Feb. 17 vs. Dallas (11-8, tied for eighth in the Western Conference)
Feb. 19 @ Minnesota (8-10)
Feb. 21 @ Memphis (10-7, sixth in the Western Conference)
Feb. 22 @ Houston (10-8, half-game behind eighth in Western Conference)
Feb. 28 @Detroit (4-15)
Feb. 29 vs. OKC (15-3, first in the Western Conference)
I just threw up in my mouth.
This wouldn’t be so worrisome if Collins, or Hawes, or a team doctor, or Sweet Lou, or a freaking towel boy would give Sixer fans any sort of assurance that Hawes and Vuc will be healthy for this stretch. But with this year’s NBA season, every player has a plethora of “bumps and bruises” and is destined to warrant the ever popular “day to day” tag at least once.
And I don’t really see that title being lifted from Hawes, no matter who tells us he’s almost 100%.
Hawes has been a game time decision for the past two games and until I see anything different, I’m going to guess that he will be just that for the months ahead; as I find it hard to believe that he can become as healthy as he needs to be with 15-games in the 29 days for February.
Currently the Sixers have a 12-6 record, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference. Say Hawes plays in half of February’s games and Vuc is there for them all, am I the only one that is still extremely worried? That’s a lot of minutes being put on the shoulders of Brand, two rookies (Vuc and Lavoy Allen), sophomore Craig Brackins, and Tony “I haven’t been trusted to play more than ten minutes a game since 2008” Battie. IF one of those guys goes down during that stretch and Hawes keeps going in and out of the lineup, the 7-6 faithful will be seeing a lot of that mostly guard lineup we saw at the end of the Nets game in decisive minutes of an important stretch.
I didn’t like it on Wednesday night and I don’t think I like it in the foreseeable future.
With Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Josh Smith, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter (who is having a great season), Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, Mo Speights, Samuel Dalembert, Luis Scola, Greg Monroe, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, and Kendrick Perkins on the Sixers opposition radar, that small lineup just isn’t going to work.
Oh, and that’s not even mentioning the superstar’s who play the guard positions on those rosters like Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Ricky Rubio, Tony Parker, Joe Johnson, and Derrick Rose.
Undoubtedly, the Sixers are going to learn a lot about themselves in February and will have to decide if they want to keep being mentioned among the elite of the NBA, or soon be described as flashes in a pan; products of a cupcake schedule.
Now is the time to “put up, or shut up” for the 7-6 and they have a mountain (literally) in front of them.
Here’s the way I see the Sixers season shaking out from now until the end of February: Five undeniable/must have wins (Detroit twice, Charlotte twice, and Cleveland), six “can go either way depending on health and other variables” games (Houston, Memphis, Minnesota, Dallas, Clippers, Atlanta), and seven losses (Bulls, Heat, Spurs, Magic twice, Thunder, Lakers).
If the Sixers win the five undeniable games and half of the toss up games, they exit the month of February with a 8-10 record, good for 20-16 overall (5 games better than last year’s mark of 15-21 through 36-games). Is that a positive? Yes and no.
Starting with the good, it proves that the Sixers are/have gotten better, even in an injury/crammed/unrealistic season. But if that 8-10 record from now until the end of Hallmarks favorite month holds out to be true, it also proves that the first 18-games were a bit of an anomaly.
That’s not to say that I don’t believe the Sixers can escape the month of February with a 10-8 record, in fact, I honestly do. But it all depends on two things.
The first being luck. Will the Sixers meet up against those elite teams and have one of their players sitting out because of injury or much needed rest? Who knows, but it’s a good possibility.
Secondly, the Sixers need to learn how to win close games.
Take a look at all of the Sixers losses so far this season and you’ll see loses to Portland (107-103), Utah (102-99), Knicks (85-79), Denver (108-104), Heat(113-92), and New Jersey (97-90). All of them, excluding the Heat game, were games that could have easily been won. To go even further, the Sixers are currently 0-2 in overtime games with the two losses to Denver and Utah coming in OT.
Now look at the wins. Only the New Orleans victory (101-93) was won by a margin under ten total points.
It’s undeniable that the Achilles heel for the Sixers is coming through in those close games. If Collins wants to get this team past the first round of the playoffs, they are going to have to figure out this problem, and NOW.
Winning down the wire and in crunch time comes with experience, age, will, dedication to a system and reps. Do the Sixers really have all of these traits on the current roster?
I believe they do. But do they have lady luck and the aptitude to put it all together against better teams?