For a team making its way into the playoffs, getting outplayed this late in the season is unfortunate, getting outworked – outright unacceptable. On Monday, the Sixers managed to pull off both in a disheartening defeat at the hands of the Orlando Magic, 95-85.
Doug Collins, who had the best seat in the house to evaluate the drubbing, surmised the game pretty quickly at the start of his press conference. “[The difference was] Rebounding, and three point shooting. That really was the killer. I thought it was a typographical error that we were being outrebounded 25-2 at one point.”
Surely, the Sixers (41-40) expected a tough night on the boards with Dwight Howard bringing his glass-cleaning act to the Wells Fargo Center. Forget the kryptonite, though; the Sixers didn’t even bother to put up a fight, getting outrebounded 32-9 and giving up 11 offensive boards – in the first half.
Hometown product Jameer Nelson rained down 4 of his 5 threes in the opening 24 minutes. Nelson led the way for the Magic, along with Howard, with 19 points apiece. As a team, the Magic (51-30) drilled 11 of 25 from beyond the arc.
Philly couldn’t muster much beyond Jrue Holiday’s double-double (15 points, 11 assists) and Elton Brand’s game-high 22 points. The Magic defense stifled Brand in the second half, double-teaming him constantly as soon as they recognized he was heating up. With little offensive support, the Sixers’ second-half attack proved futile as the Magic built a lead that, at one point, eclipsed 20.
“We’ve seen it now in the last few games, we hang in there, we fight,” Collins stated afterward, “we just struggle to score.” Noticeably absent from the lineup; the still-ailing Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala, resting his tendinitis-stricken right knee. Optimistically, the team can defer to the fact that they were short-handed against a legitimate powerhouse hitting its stride, roaring behind a fresh Dwight Howard, who came back strong (see: the posterization of Holiday) after a one-game suspension.
Realistically, though, there are more problems abound than the injury bug. Jodie Meeks’ shooting has officially dropped below freezing. Monday night, he went 1-5 from three and 3-8 from the field overall. It was his highest shooting percentage in the past three games, though, after going back-to-back games shooting 2-11 from the field.
Evan Turner, in a rookie campaign that has seen both hills and valleys thus far, has failed to build on his 21-point performance at Boston last Tuesday. Against the Magic, he pulled in only one rebound and scored 7 points on 2-7 shooting in 25 minutes. This follows a 3-7 shooting performance against the Raptors on Friday, and a 2-8 outing against the Knicks last Wednesday.
Although Meeks and Turner are in their second and first NBA seasons, respectively, it is important for them to step up their games into the next gear heading into the playoffs. With no telling the long-term ramifications of Williams’ hamstring injury, it is up to them and vet Andres Nocioni to flank Thaddeus Young off the bench.
Losing 4 of their last 5, Philly is effectively limping into the playoffs. With the Celtics losing to the lowly Wizards in overtime on Monday, the Heat have clinched the second seed and have locked in a Miami-Philly matchup in round one.
The good news for the Sixers? They’re in, they know what they’re up against, and none of these losses matter come this weekend. The bad news? The Heat are playing their best basketball all season, as evidenced by a recent 14-3 stretch – including a 111-99 triumph over the Sixers on March 25.
Hopefully, in their season finale, against Detroit on Wednesday, the Sixers take a step in the right direction. For now, the best way for the 76ers to prepare for the NBA’s “second season” is to close the regular season strong.