How do you follow up a 45-point loss in which you once trailed by 56 points and basically just served as set dressing while Hollywood stars made new highlight reels? Well, if you're the Philadelphia 76ers, you come back the next night with a just-as-dreadful performance against the Golden State Warriors that resulted in that most unlikely of NBA occurrences: a crowd serenading reserve big man Marreese Speights with "MVP" chants.
Warriors fans weren't the only ones getting effusive in their praise of the 26-year-old big man, whom the 76ers selected 16th overall in the 2008 NBA draft and who spent the first three years of his career in Philadelphia. NBA TV analyst Brent Barry elected to celebrate Speightsanity in 140 characters or less, too:
— Brent Barry (@Barryathree) February 11, 2014
Speights is Enough — Brent Barry (@Barryathree) February 11, 2014
Ace of Speights
— Brent Barry (@Barryathree) February 11, 2014
Speights: The Final Frontier — Brent Barry (@Barryathree) February 11, 2014
(Clearly, "The Starters" and their Pun Gun are rubbing off on ol' Bones.)
To be fair, Speights was in the midst of the best game of his six-year NBA career — he made his first seven shots from the field, scoring 22 points on 8 for 9 shooting in the first half and finishing with a career-high 32 points on 12 for 15 shooting, eight rebounds and three blocks in just over 26 minutes on Tuesday. Sure, the Oracle Arena faithful might have gone a bit overboard in celebrating Mo's landmark performance, but A) that's the kind of thing we love about the Oracle Arena faithful and B) it was a pretty good goof that its intended target appreciated.
"That was so funny. I started laughing," Speights said after the game, according to Antonio Gonzalez of The Associated Press. "At least they still have trust in me, so it's always good to have fans on your side."
And, as the Los Angeles Clippers learned on Sunday, it helps to have the 76ers opposing you, too.
After staying within hailing distance through 12 minutes, the 76ers saw their 29-21 first-quarter deficit balloon to a 20-point crater 5 1/2 minutes into the second, thanks in large part to Speights, who scored 17 of his 32 in the second. Things only got worse when Stephen Curry started to heat up, as the All-Star point guard accounted for 19 points over the final 6:30 of the first half — 12 of his own on perfect 3 for 3 marks from both 3-point range and the free-throw line, and seven on three assists — to push the Warriors to double up the Sixers, 66-33, at intermission.
That was a 37-12 second quarter for the Warriors. 68.4% FG (13-19) for GSW, 23.1% (6-26) for PHI. Eight of the 76ers' 12 came off turnovers.
— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) February 11, 2014
Basically, if the Warriors didn't do their part to help Philly score, the Sixers would be down 40 again. — Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) February 11, 2014
And soon enough, they would be. A Curry 3-pointer with 8:24 left in the third made the score 77-36, and the 76ers would spend the lion's share of the remaining 20 minutes and 24 seconds of game time trying to cut and keep Golden State's lead below 40 points. Not surprisingly, they lost that battle, with a bench-heavy Warriors lineup led by Speights, Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks putting the finishing touches on a 123-80 win.
The embarrassing blowout earned Brett Brown's Sixers the dubious distinction of being the second team in NBA history, and the first team since the 1993-94 season, to lose back-to-back games by at least 40 points. The last ones to do it? The 1993-94 76ers, who lost by 48 to the New York Knicks and by 45 to the Indiana Pacers on consecutive nights in late April 1994. The combined margin of defeat in these two games, 88 points, is the third-largest for consecutive games in NBA history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, topped only by those '93-'94 Sixers (93 points) and the 1966-67 Detroit Pistons, who dropped a back-to-back to the Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Warriors by a total of 95 points.
The silver lining, then, is that this two-game stretch is not the worst in NBA history. But there's an awful dark cloud inside that lining — the 76ers have lost seven straight, 10 of 11, 13 of 15 and 17 of their last 20 games. They now sit at 15-38, the second-worst record in the NBA behind the injury-riddled and awful 9-42 Milwaukee Bucks, and they've actually performed worse on a per-possession basis than Milwaukee; Philly ranks just below the Bucks in both offensive and defensive efficiency en route to posting a league-worst "net rating" (whether you score more points than you give up over the course of 100 possessions, or vice versa) of -10.3 points-per-100, according to NBA.com's stat tool. That 3-0 start to the season feels like a long, long time ago now, doesn't it?
Everyone knew the 76ers were going to be terrible this season, but there's a pretty big difference between projecting a tanker and actually being an NBA player on one. After two games as dispiriting as these back-to-back losses to the Clips and Dubs, Brown knows that his biggest challenge will be just getting his Sixers to keep their heads down and their feet moving, according to Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:
“It’s hard for everybody because the reality of it is they have put in so much time and despite the turmoil it’s a group that has been together, stayed together,” said coach Brett Brown. “At times you look up and you have to keep on going and keep on playing with some level of dignity and it’s hard doing that. For the most part I think they did that. I think the first half score was not reflective of the defense in many ways. We couldn’t score, we couldn’t make a shot. Look at what we’ve shot from the 3-point line the past two nights. Balls just didn’t go in and it carries over to the other side. That’s the memory. The game was obviously gone early in the third period and then it was just a matter of trying to see it through and playing the game the right way.
“They have to keep their own spirits up [and] I have to help them. There’s a respect for the game, a pride for doing our job, an appreciation [for what] we have spent together, which has been quality time. The situation is real in regards to spending working time with each other. How do you keep it up? Who knows? I think everybody has to do their job and remember who is in the room. There are good people in that room.”
"Don't anybody feel sorry for us," Brown added, according to the AP's Gonzalez. "We will wake up and be [OK] tomorrow."
Naturally — the Sixers are off Tuesday, and their next game comes Wednesday night against the similarly scuffling Utah Jazz. If Brown and company find themselves staring up at a 40-point deficit against Tyrone Corbin's 17-33 Jazz in their final game before the All-Star break, though, it might be time to break out the sympathy.
Speights video via Ben Golliver at The Point Forward.
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