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Can the Sixers still win with AI ers Mediocre MidseasonReport

If anybody needed any more evidence as to how maddeningly inconsistent the Philadelphia 76ers have been the season, one needs to look no further than Thursday night's game against the Chicago Bulls and their contest the night before against the San Antonio Spurs as proof. Following a dramatic 103-100 OT victory over the world-champions at the Wachovia Center on Wednesday night, the Sixers responded with an even more spectacular failure on Thursday night, losing to the barely-registering-a-pulse Chicago Bulls by 33 points. That's right boys and girls, 33 points. These Sixers are mediocrity personified. One night they're beating the world champs at home by displaying defensive grit, teamwork, and another all-world performance by Allen Iverson. The next night, they're laying down against the Central Division's last-place team.

It's just maddening. Most professional sports teams ride on a wave of momentum. Whether it's good or bad, teams in all sports catch that wave and either ride it to success or failure. But not the Sixers. These Sixers play like Eastern Conference title contenders one night, then follow it up the next night with an effort the Charlotte Bobcats would be proud of.

Why can't these guys get it together? Why can't they maintain the level of play they showed against the Spurs for more than one night? How can they go from beating the world champions one night to taking a dump on the court against one of the Eastern Conference's worst teams the following night? The biggest reason is defense. When the 76ers play defense like they did against the Spurs on Wednesday, they can beat almost anybody. However, nights when the Sixers play defense are about as frequent as a Dick Cheney press conference. You can probably count on hand the number of times these guys have put together four quarters of solid defensive effort this season.

Chris Webber, Allen Iverson and Kyle Korver are abortions on defense. These guys couldn't guard a wheelchair player let alone most NBA stars. Iverson provides no pressure on the opponent's point guard, which allows the other team to set up their offense with little or no resistance whatsoever. Chris Webber's knee prevents him from jumping more than two feet in the air at any given time, let alone rebounding or bodying anyone up in the low blocks. And Kyle Korver has the lateral movement of William Refrigerator Perry. No one gets beat off the dribble quite like Kyle Korver.

Mo Cheeks has got to take a lot of the blame for this mess. Granted, he doesn't have a lot of great defensive players on his roster, but it appears on most nights that the Sixers couldn't even be bothered to try and defend people. And that's the indictment on him. The 76ers seem to always be going through the motions.

Cheeks was supposed to be a coach that the players liked and respected, someone they could get behind. But it looks as though they play like five separate guys out on the court rather than as one cohesive unit. It's a collection of random dudes thrown out on the court trying to make something happen by themselves. Half the time it works, half the time it doesn't. One thing it does is make for some pretty inconsistent basketball. One of the big concerns for the Sixers has got to be the play of Andre Iguodola.

Iggy was supposed to emerge in year #2, but it just hasn't happened. Here's a guy with all the talent in the world, the team's only true lock-down defender, but he has yet to take it to the next level. Just like the great black bear, Iggy's offense makes a brief cameo appearance, then as quickly as it came, goes back into hibernation. Perhaps Allen Iverson's penchant for hogging the ball too much is the cause of Iggy's failure to make "the leap." But it seems to me that a truly great player can make something happen whenever he touches the ball, and Andre has not shown the ability or desire to do that yet.

If the Sixers are going to be a playoff contender, they need Andre Iguoldola to be another offensive threat. But more than the X's and O's, it's the personality and effort of the 2005-06 76ers that is the biggest problem. On nights like Wednesday night against the Spurs, you could see a fire in their eyes and a competitive spirit in their play that made you think, "maybe this is the turning point.

" Then, on nights like Thursday night against the Bulls, you see it was a one-night aberration, a mirage, something that couldn't be repeated. The effort of the 76ers reminds me of my golf swing. Every once in a while, everything comes together. I keep that left arm in, keep my head down on the ball, follow through, and watch that baby fly high and far into the sky. But my muscle memory isn't there yet. So I'll follow that beautiful shot up by shanking my next shot off the side of someone's house or into a pond the size of New Hampshire.

Effort is a lot like that muscle memory. Once you get into the habit of putting out maximum effort every night and doing the little things necessary to playing winning basketball, you can't help but be successful. The 2000-01 Sixers are proof of that.

Effort is a habit, one the 76ers haven't tried to learn. So, at the midseason mark, the Sixers are pretty much where they have been since opening night, right around .500 at 25-27. They currently hold the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. And sadly, there really is nothing that GM Billy King can do to fix things.

Chris Webber is untradeable. And there is no way the Sixers could get equal value for Allen Iverson. There is no one out there on the trading block that would make things any better.

The Sixers are stuck with what they've got; a collection of somewhat talented guys who can't seem to play with each other. Mediocrity and the 76ers. get used to it. .

By: ohn Stolnis



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