76ers left with little room for error

Philadelphia 76ers' point guard Jrue Holiday is an NBA All Star for the first time and will represent the team this weekend in Houston.– AP PHOTO/MATT SLOCUM

If the Philadelphia 76ers are going to make the playoffs, the team has a lot of work to do after the NBA All-Star break. The Sixers’ latest loss to the Milwaukee Bucks was critically damaging in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Bucks (26-25) are in the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference. With the Sixers dropping a 94-92 decision to the Bucks on Wednesday, they have now fallen four games back. In addition, Milwaukee has beaten the Sixers three times this season, holding the tie-breaker with one game remaining between the teams.

The Sixers have 31 games left in the season. After the All-Star break, the schedule isn’t very kind either. The team faces the Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors. With the exception of the Magic and the Timberwolves, all these teams are headed to the playoffs and the Heat are the NBA champions with LeBron James, who will probably win the league’s Most Valuable Player award again this season.

Moreover, the Sixers have just 12 games left at home. So, they’re going to have to play their best basketball on the road. And that’s not easy at this time of the year, when a lot of teams are jockeying for playoff position.

Doug Collins, Sixers’ head coach, will have to find a way to get his team on a serious playoff run. Collins has quite the task in front of him. Of course, everybody has been waiting for 7-foot center Andrew Bynum to play. Bynum has been plagued with bilateral knee bone bruises. He has given various updates on the condition of his knees, but still doesn’t seem to know when he will debut this season.

At this point, the Sixers can’t count on Bynum. Even if he comes back and plays, it’s going to take him a while to get into playing shape. He hasn’t played a game since last spring, when the Los Angeles Lakers were in the playoffs. Jason Richardson, Sixers’ shooting guard, will miss the rest of the season after left knee surgery. Richardson, a veteran and good outside shooter, averaged 10.5 points a game. The Sixers are also playing without small forward Thaddeus Young, who has been rehabbing a left hamstring injury. Young has missed four games. Prior to the injury, Young was having a great season averaging 14.9 points and 7.4 rebounds a game.

Young has been the team’s most consistent player this season, and getting him back healthy will be a big lift.

Jrue Holiday, who will be heading to Houston this weekend for his first NBA all-star appearance, will have to step up even more after the break. Holiday is averaging 17.8 points and 8.9 assists a game. He’s going to have to limit his turnovers and provide some additional leadership in the backcourt. Evan Turner, Sixers’ small forward, is averaging 13.8 points and 5.9 rebounds a game, but Turner is going to have to do more, particularly if Holiday hits a flat spot. Nick Young has to continue to provide some much needed outside shooting. Young is averaging 11.5 points a game and certainly has had some big moments.

The most work needs to come from the frontcourt with Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen. Hawes is averaging 10.2 points and 6.4 rebounds a game. Allen is tallying 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds a game. The numbers aren’t a big thing with them. But they have to do a better job of coming up with loose balls and key rebounds. Too many second and third shots have hurt the Sixers.

Overall, defense has been lacking. That’s one thing Collins could always count on last year. Obviously, Andre Iguodala was a big part of that. Iguodala is one of the best defensive players in the league. That’s why the Denver Nuggets will be a team to contend with in the playoffs. But the Sixers need to come with stops first. If they can get some steals and force some turnovers that will improve their scoring.

The Sixers need to get off to a good start, to say the least. They can’t afford a losing streak now.


Contact Staff Writer Donald Hunt at (215) 893-5719 or dhunt@phillytrib.com.

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