The Philadelphia 76ers are in the midst of a freefall. Thought before the season to be a dark horse contender for a higher echelon playoff spot with Andrew Bynum on board, and thought to at least be a playoff participant after a 12-9 start to the season, the Sixers have lost 33 of 47 games since that initial burst of competence, including Thursday night’s humiliating defeat against the Denver Nuggets.
Dropping the second night of a back to back in Denver’s Pepsi Center should be without shame, as the Nuggets are now 31-3 at home and nobody seems to be able to overcome the thin air after playing the night before. Dropping a contest like this, though, has to be humiliation of the highest basketball order. Watch:
If you’re scoring at home, that’s a three-possession game overcome by Denver in the final two minutes and five points overcome in the final 14 seconds. With Corey Brewer, that noted lights-out scorer, knocking in six points in the final two possessions to call it a game. The Nuggets have now won 14 straight, more than righting the ship of a team that was forced to start out the season with a series of unfair back-to-backs and road contests.
The Nuggets have performed brilliantly in response to that 10-11 start to the season, running off a 38-11 tear and re-introducing stalwart guard Andre Miller to the limelight he’s looked to avoid since his turn as an NCAA Tournament hero some 15 (!) years ago. As a result, there should be no dishonor in failing in the final minutes against the Denver Nuggets. Especially while playing in Denver.
And yet, somehow, the 76ers succeeded in trotting out a dishonorable discharge.
Damien Wilkins’ presence in all of this is symptomatic. Wilkins is about as admirable as NBA players come. He’s a tough, hardworking and very cerebral journeyman who enjoyed his best game in years with a 24-point performance on Thursday, hitting 10 of 15 shots along the way. The 33-year-old has played solid ball in March, averaging 11.5 points in just 27 minutes a game on 54 percent shooting from the floor. He remains a sneaky-good passer and a willing defender.
Plaudits aside, the guy still attempted to block Corey Brewer’s 3-point shot when the Sixers were up two points with 2.1 seconds to go. Trying to block a jump shooter in any situation is fundamentally incorrect, and lunging to swat the 25-footer of a career (and 2012-13 season-long) 30 percent 3-point shooter — I don’t care if he’d made 5 of 6 on the night and just hit a clutch 3-pointer seconds before — is a benchable mistake.
Wilkins wasn’t benched, though, and was given the chance to atone for his misstep after Brewer nailed all three of his free throws to give the Nuggies the game-tilting one-point lead. JaVale McGee stuffed Wilkins’ last second attempt after the timeout, though, and the Sixers were left with the team’s 14th loss in 18 games.
One of the team’s owners, because this is what team owners do now, took his apoplexy to Twitter:
That was the worst last minute of 76ers basketball I've seen in ages. Mind-numbingly bad.
— Adam Aron (@SixersCEOAdam) March 22, 2013
In a vacuum, a one-point loss to the Nuggets in Denver should be considered a moral victory for just about every team that isn’t playing with the word “Miami” stitched across its jerseys. Again, the team is now 31-3 at home, and nobody has been able to crack the Nugs while working on the second night of a back-to-back in Colorado. And Philadelphia’s 26-42 record without Andrew Bynum, essentially dealing Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Lou Williams for a season’s worth of “help” from Kwame Brown and Nick Young, is probably right on par with what we should expect.
Still — missed free throws, fouled 3-point shooters, and another gut-wrenching loss. And Damien Wilkins, who should be the heady 11th member of a rotation for a playoff team, was forced to be the go-to guy on both ends for Philadelphia. This is not what dreams are made of.
This is what lost seasons are made of. And while we don’t blame the Sixers for going all-in with the attempt to land that oft-coveted center that can score and defend, it may cost coach Doug Collins and the team’s front office its jobs.
After a year like this, they may not mind the time off.