COMMENTARY | Head coach Doug Collins stepped up to the microphone Tuesday night and left no doubt about how he felt after the Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Orlando Magic, who won a road game for the first time in the last 10 tries.
"I sure didn't see this effort coming," he said as he opened his post-game press conference. "… This is mind-numbing to me. We went up 29-20 and from that point on I couldn't even tell you what occurred."
Let me help explain the 98-84 loss.
The Sixers played with a sense of urgency more similar to a team that had clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs than one now sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Philadelphia allowed Orlando to take uncontested shot after uncontested shot, while launching rushed jumpers themselves from anywhere and everywhere on the court. With 8:16 to play in the third quarter, Collins yanked four starters - Thad Young remained on the court - and yelled from his seat: "Work the ball around."
"They weren't getting it done," Collins explained of the desperate substitution.
The reserves cut a 15-point lead to five just by getting some stops, pushing the ball and playing with some aggression, according to Collins. It's as close as they would get.
You didn't need to read between the lines to understand where Collins was placing the blame during the press conference. He told the story of how former Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt used to tell recruits they had to bring three things to her program: energy, effort and execution.
"And I'm in charge of one of them," he said she would tell them. "Execution."
"I gave my body to this franchise," he added. "I was never booed as a player."
Fans booed last night, and they should have. Even owner Adam Aron agreed, tweeting: To be blown out at home by Orlando is maddening. No criticism you [sic] voice could be strong enough. Sixers fans deserve much better than this.
Collins reiterated more than once during the presser that he wasn't placing blame or making excuses. Well, he might not have been making excuses, but his words told a different story about who is to blame.
"After a while the talk gets old," he said when asked about talking to individual players. "… They say it's a players' league. Well, then take ownership of what you're putting out there."
One of the main problems with this team is that there is no clear leader in the locker room. When asked if anyone said anything after the game, Young replied, "Nobody really said anything."
Collins said he thinks there are potential leaders, but didn't say who. The veteran on the team is Jason Richardson, now lost for the season with a knee injury. The only All-Star, Jrue Holiday, is playing in just his third season. Potential superstar and former All-Star Andrew Bynum hasn't suited up for a game yet, and apparently not even Collins knows where he is some of the time.
"Is that where he usually sits?" Collins replied when asked about Bynum not being on the bench during the game.
A team spokesman said Bynum arrived just before the game started, stayed in the locker room for treatment during it, and left immediately afterward. Some have questioned if Bynum even wants to play this season. Two of the players Orlando received in the four-team deal that brought Bynum to Philadelphia played well. Nic Vucevic had 12 points and 19 rebounds, and Maurice Harkless scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds. Unlike three of the Sixers, they must have been ready to play.
"We had three guys not even sweating when we're ready to start the game," Collins pointed out.
The frustrated Collins continued to take well-deserved jabs at his team, saying they "don't react well to change," when asked why they were playing better before Young was injured, but now that he's back can't seem to right the ship.
"There can't be a game where you just don't put your heart and soul in the game," Collins added.
Well, there's now been at least one. And if the Sixers don't get it together, they might not win another game. Their remaining schedule might be the most difficult in the league, with 12 of the remaining 16 games on the road. If they couldn't get up for what was practically a must-win game at home against one of the NBA's worst road team, how do they muster up the energy and desire to play at Chicago Thursday night. And that's just the beginning. Five of their next six games are against playoff teams. Their only opponent during that stretch with a losing record is the Washington Wizards, who are on a three-game winning streak and have won seven of their last nine.
Collins has his work cut out for him.
"It's incredibly frustrating," he admitted. "My job is to not put that kind of product on the floor."
He actually hopes the team has hit rock bottom.
"I hope it's a bottoming out," he said. "I hope it can't get worse than this."
Well, it can. And it might if the players don't take ownership. The owner is frustrated. The coach is frustrated. The players are frustrated (more than one used that term after the game). And, yes, the fans are frustrated. One fan emailed: "Hopefully they tank. Unfortunately, it's gotten to that point."
The team's slogan for the season was written all over the backdrop hanging behind Collins as he spoke: Passionate. Intense. Proud.
Right now, that's not a slogan. They are just words.
Jon Buzby is an award-winning sportswriter from Delaware and has followed the Sixers since 1976. He contributes regularly to multiple newspapers, magazines and websites. Follow him @JonBuzby on Twitter.
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