Tuesday night's 111-93 loss to the Cavaliers made me sadder than perhaps any Sixers loss this year. Not because the team played awfully - while that's expected, it's also largely an acceptable outcome. Heck, even the reserves had solid games. Brandon Davies scored 12 points somehow. So did Elliot Williams. It was basically a parade of lovable scrubs (and Lavoy Allen) by the end of the game. Which was harmless, tank-fueling fun.
For the Cavs, C.J. Miles hit a team-record 10 threes, scoring 34 points in total, joining Joe Johnson as the only players who have hit 10 threes in a game this year, and the only players who have hit 10 threes in a game against the Sixers. Miles will go down in the record books, and rightfully so. He shot the lights out of my apartment, which was not nice since it's under 10 degrees outside, C.J.
But that's not what I first remembered from this game. My first thought brought me to the fourth quarter, garbage time, where Anthony Bennett sadly made his mark on me.
Bennett has played awfully this year, which is no secret to anyone who follows the NBA. I've seen him play in spurts this season, as I subscribe to the five-team NBA League Pass and have the Cavaliers as one of my chosen teams. Bennett rarely has much of an opportunity to produce, especially in competitive games. I haven't seen really any extended Bennett stretches, if only because they seem to come in blowouts that I tend not to watch casually. Tonight's game featured said garbage time, and since the lovable losers mentioned above were involved I felt compelled to stay tuned.
Late in the fourth quarter the cameras at the Quicken Loans Arena zoomed on Bennett, the first overall pick from the 2013 draft. There on the court Bennett stood, looking... completely exhausted. Dripping sweat more than Chauncey Billups, staring towards the ceiling with his hands on his hips, gasping from the mouth as if his life depended on each intake of air, Bennett looked like a broken player.
Such sights aren't a rarity against the Sixers - the team leads the NBA in pace, part of its overall goal to build an army of well-conditioned basketball machines - but Bennett's was different. He almost looked like he couldn't move. His will was gone. He couldn't even muster the energy to set a screen properly - when tasked to do so late in the game, he barely moved from his spot, the camera zooming in after the play to the same, hip-holding, deep-breathing athlete.
As you may or may not know, Anthony Bennett suffers from a form of asthma. While seemingly made out to be a joke in Lord of the Flies, the symptoms and side-effects of asthma are anything but.
I'm fortunate not to have the full-blown asthma hunting me down. However, I've got sport-induced asthma, which flares up whenever I overextend my breathing, likely through doing more cardio than I'm accustomed to. First, I get the sensation that I can't pass air through my nose while breathing naturally, so I start breathing increasingly through my mouth until I give up on breathing through my nose entirely. Next comes my throat constricting, making it seem like breathing through a puddle of mud. Finally, those symptoms catch up to me and I can't continue what I'm doing - breathing heavier and heavier until I'm forced to stop. It can take minutes for me to catch my breath, and wheezing symptoms linger for up to a few days.
The worst part, though, is that I get psyched out anytime where breathing could be an issue. Not being able to breathe will do that to a person. I almost don't do any cardio at this point in my life, combining general laziness with fear of not being able to breathe.
I can't imagine being a professional athlete having to deal with asthma, especially one coming off an injury with the pressure of being the number one overall pick. You're expected to be super-athletic and compete with the best in the world. If you've seen his pre-draft metrics, Bennett clearly belongs in that group. But Bennett's fighting a really huge battle with asthma and conditioning, one it took years for the likes of (for example) Roy Hibbert to overcome. Coming off of an injury, making the leap to the NBA, playing with a breathing impairment, it almost seems cruel to place any expectations on him.
Instead, Bennett's already been labeled a bust by many people. Fans even booed his perceived lack of effort during the game. Granted, I can't dismiss all his problems and relate them to his medical issues. The breathing and injuries are only part of his overall deficiencies. But understand that it's just extremely difficult to grasp the NBA game while simultaneously just gasping for air. Hopefully Bennett can get the asthma and conditioning under control, and hopefully he gets a fair chance to prove his worth at that point.
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