With the Sixers 88-82 deflating loss to the Orlando Magic, losers of 5 straight heading into the game and on the verge of imploding due to the revelation of Dwight Howards' demands, the Sixers season stands on the precipice of disaster.
Holding an 8 point half-time lead against a team missing two starters, including their second leading scorer and second leading rebounder, the Sixers appeared to be in position to right the ship. Instead they imploded, putting the starting lineup, the season, and the future in doubt.
With the Sixers third straight loss (and 9th in their last 13 games), combined with the Celtics win over Indiana, and the Bucks win over Portland, the Sixers are now closer to being out of the playoffs (1.5 games ahead of Milwaukee) than they are to winning the Atlantic Division (2 games). 11 games left, 9 of which are on the road, 1.5 games away from being out of the playoffs. Making the playoffs is no longer a foregone conclusion.
Perhaps more importantly was the implication that coach Collins is going to reverse the starting lineup change he made a month ago when he inserted Evan Turner into the starting lineup.
At the time, Collins insisted the change was permanent, that Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Andre Iguodala would start the remainder of the season together on the wing. It appears that is very much in doubt now.
Granted, the starting lineup was front and center for the teams problems. Outscored 12-2 to start the game and 15-7 to start the third, the Sixers starting lineup put the team in a hole, and that's been a far too frequent trend with the Sixers of late. The team was quickly outscored 7-4 to start the third quarter against Toronto and was destroyed 13-3 against Miami to start the third earlier in the week.
For the game, the Sixers starters scored 5, 6, 7, 6, and 7 points, shooting a combined 13-44 from the field. Jrue Holiday was held off the scoreboards -- 0 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists -- until he made a driving layup with 4:42 left in the game, playing one of his least effective games as a starter. Andre Iguodala dished out 10 assists, and Elton Brand grabbed 11 rebounds, but by and large the group was ineffective together.
"We can't continue to start like that," coach Doug Collins said after the game. "I'm going to give that starting unit one more time and if we start like that again, I've got to make a change."
While Collins said he had to figure out exactly what change that meant, it was pretty clear it would be reversing the decision he made on March 5th, returning Jodie Meeks to the starting lineup in place of Evan Turner.
"Jodie's a glue guy," Collins said. "He brings an element [that we don't have]."
"We've got three guys out there right now that all...," Collins paused, referring to his three perimeter players. "It's not a great shooting group, so we don't have great floor spacing."
"For whatever reason, that's just not a cohesive group," Collins continued. "And the minute we put Jodie out there and we've got Thad, all of a sudden the game changed immediately."
"[We] can't keep flailing. Can't do it," Collins repeated. "I'm sitting there and I've got one thing on my mind: 'win the damned game.'"
It's that last point that Michael Levin is likely to take issue with, although it's not especially surprising. Whether or not the starting lineup has struggled really isn't the point, as it would be virtually impossible for one to argue that the starting lineup hasn't been struggling. It's whether or not changing the starting lineup benefits the team long term.
For some (and on this blog, that would be most) the development of Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner are the most important elements of this season, even more-so than wins or losses. Getting data on how well those two can play together, if they can at all, is of utmost importance. It's what made Doug's proclamation in early March all that more meaningful. For better or worse, Sixers fans could get 28 games to evaluate Evan Turner in the starting lineup alongside Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala. It provided the chance to evaluate, something that hasn't happened all that much during Turner's first 1.5 years.
To know that we are now one more bad start away from throwing that to the wind makes a bad situation worse. Not only are we on the precipice of throwing away the Atlantic Division, and not only have we gone a season without appreciable improvement (or any improvement, really) from the play of the two young guards who are so crucial to our long term prospects, but now we are about to cancel the last 11 games of the tryout period, removing precious time for Evan Turner to develop, and precious time for us to see what we have in him, and in the potential starting backcourt.
The worst case scenario unfolded before our eyes at the Wells Fargo Center last night.
It's a lose, lose, lose.
Reaction to a potential lineup change
Jodie Meeks: "If there's changes made, fine, if not we'll just keep playing the way we're playing."
Elton Brand: "We've got to do something...If that's what we have to do to knock down some shots and not put ourselves at a deficit at the beginning of each half, we got to do what we got to do."
Jrue Holiday: "As a coach you have to make decisions where you're trying to win, just like everybody else. If he changes me out of the starting lineup, I can't really complain about it. You know, I'm going to work, I've always been a workhorse, but coaches have to make decisions to win, and we're all trying to win. Whatever it takes."
Doug Collins on getting to the free throw line.
"We talk about 'attack the basketball, attack the basket', and we just don't have those guys that draw fouls," Collins said about the matter. "It's not like we're chucking just long jump shots, we do get [shots in the paint]".
"We don't have guys that create a lot of contact, and that's one of the areas that hurts us," Collins said. "[Evan's] going to be the kind of guy that can play through contact. That's going to be important for him. Evan's going to have to be a guy that starts getting [to the line] 6 or 7 times [per game], and that would be the growth of his game."
While I don't necessarily believe that "chucking long jump shots" isn't a problem (the Sixers have the third fewest shots at the rim and the second most shots between 16' and 23'), I do think the Sixers generally aren't very good at drawing contact when they do get in the paint. I think Evan asserting himself more could help in that matter, as he has the ability, but I think the organization's going to have to go outside of their current players to acquire that skill set.