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NBA AM: Sixers Folding To Late Season Pressure
Posted By Lang Greene On April 18, 2012 @ 6:35 am In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
This isn’t how the script was supposed to unfold for the Philadelphia 76ers’ in 2012.
Once a feel good story, earlier in the season, the Sixers now find themselves stumbling down the stretch in a state of free fall, some would say choking to the pressure.
Timing is everything. Some would say it’s better for a team to peak late rather than hitting their full stride too early and fading.
Just over a month ago the Sixers enjoyed a comfortable lead at the top of the Atlantic Division. The Boston Celtics were thought to be too old and finished; the New York Knicks were in a state of turmoil.
Head coach Doug Collins was considered one of the frontrunners for Coach of the Year.
Forward Andre Iguodala was named to his first All-Star team.
Reserve guard Lou Williams was hovering near the top of the Sixth Man of the Year race.
Point guard Jrue Holiday confidently told HOOPSWORLD the team had earned their stripes and deserved more respect.
But now the Sixers find themselves in a fight to salvage their season.
After Tuesday’s loss to Indiana, the Sixers have now lost seven out of their last nine games and at 31-30 on the season are just 1.5 ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks for the last and final playoff spot in the East.
In a strange twist, both the Celtics and Knicks have catapulted the ailing Sixers in the postseason hunt.
Rumors are now starting to emerge on Collins’ job security.
What a difference just one month makes.
During the late season meltdown the Sixers have lost to Washington, Toronto and New Jersey.
All of those teams are headed to the draft lottery.
“Eventually, you have to win some of those games,” Collins told Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News following Tuesday’s loss. “There are two things we haven’t done this year: win close games and get to the free throw line. To me those are two areas that stand out. To me, both those are physical and mental toughness. Closing out games is mental toughness; getting to the free throw line [is] physical toughness; and we have not done a good job all season long in those two areas. And it’s not like as a coach I don’t talk about it all the time.”
Collins is right.
The Sixers haven’t been able to close the show in tight games and are a woeful 3-19 in games decided by seven points or less.
Despite the tumble in the standings, veteran forward Elton Brand remained optimistic of his team’s chances to pull it together down the stretch.
“We’ve got to find a way to win,” Brand said. “I’m highly optimistic, believing in my teammates. We’ll find a way. I think we’ve played so well in spurts. We haven’t completed games, but we played well. If we played that hard and that well against some other teams, we wouldn’t be in this position.”
The Sixers have six games remaining on the schedule; five of those contests are on the road with four coming against below .500 teams (Cleveland, New Jersey, Milwaukee and Detroit).
“It’s definitely crunch time,” Sixers forward Thaddeus Young said. “We definitely need to win these next five games on the road to kind of solidify our position in what we’re trying to do. We can’t come out and not win games. We have to now. It’s at that point where we have to figure out ways to win ballgames and get to the playoffs. I think we’re just not making shots at the end of games. We’re drawing up good plays; we’re just not making the right plays or making shots.”
On the season, the Sixers are just 12-16 on the road.
But with the games remaining on the docket the Sixers are definitely in full control of their own postseason.
The problem is; the team hasn’t been able to close the show in the clutch all season.
Knicks’ To Get Amar’e Stoudemire Back This Week? Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire has missed the last twelve games nursing a bulging disc in his back.
On a positive note, the Knicks have managed to compile an 8-4 record during Stoudemire’s recent absence from the lineup.
The four losses have all been to playoff bound teams (Indiana, Atlanta, Chicago and Miami).
But make no mistake if the team expects to make any type of run in the postseason they’ll need their injured star back on the court.
Interim head coach Mike Woodson finally confirmed the team is eyeing Friday’s game versus the Cleveland Cavaliers for Stoudemire’s return to action.
“Speculation is probably Friday,’’ Woodson told Marc Berman of The New York Post. “All we can do is wait and see. It’s a possibility. It’s a possibility. Thursday will have another practice to see where he is. If everything goes well in that practice, it’s a possibility. I got to get through Thursday just to make sure he gets through it and he tells me Friday he felt pretty good after Thursday’s workout. He hasn’t had setbacks so far.’’
Stoudemire wouldn’t confirm Woodson’s timetable, but admitted the need to get back on the court before the postseason begins.
“I definitely have to get some games under my belt before the playoffs,’’ Stoudemire said. “There’s a little hint. I’m getting close.’’
Stoudemire is averaging 17.6 points per game on the season, which is close to eight points less than his strong 2011 campaign.
However his presence on the interior forces opponents to respect his offensive game and therefore would take tremendous pressure off of team leading scorer Carmelo Anthony.
If the Playoffs were to start today, the Knicks would face the Miami HEAT in the first round.
The Knicks are 0-3 versus the HEAT this season. Two of the losses were by double-digits.
All Is Well Between Jim Buss, Kobe Bryant: Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss says his relationship with his franchise player shooting guard Kobe Bryant is better than ever.
Bryant if you remember publicly questioned the organization’s handling of forward Pau Gasol, openly offering the All-Star on the trade block early in the season.
But according to Buss the two are now on the same page.
“We talk all the time now,” Buss told Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA on his relationship with Bryant. “What it is, be it my fault, I should communicate more with the players in a certain way. I’ve always felt that when it comes to (player movement) decisions that it changes every 10 minutes when it’s actually going to happen. To inform a player or ask a player’s opinion about this guy or that guy, it would bore them to death and drive them crazy. So, I was under the impression that it was better to wait until the very last moment and then talk to him.”
The Lakers currently hold the third seed in the Western Conference if the playoffs started today. They’d face the Denver Nuggets in the opening round.
Bryant has missed the team’s last six games nursing an injured shin.
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