76ers in a rut as series against Magic looms

April 16, 2009 6:40:23 PM PDT
Maybe the 76ers should send their trainer to Orlando to try and patch up starters Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. Boston and Cleveland's second teamers and scrubs toyed so much with a Philadelphia team fighting for playoff positioning, the Sixers might prefer the Magic be without an ache or pain entering their first-round playoff series.

Banged-up or feeling fine, Dwight Howard and the Magic (59-23) present a major matchup dilemma for the Sixers in any round. Toss in a six-game losing streak that knocked the confidence out of the Sixers as well as their hold on the Eastern Conference's fifth seed, and their five-year drought without winning a playoff series could continue.

Don't look for the Sixers (41-41) to find a reason for anyone to hit Las Vegas and bet on the underdog.

"Our defense is horrible right now," forward Thaddeus Young said.

Andre Miller's thoughts?

"I can't pinpoint it, but we just lost it mentally," Miller said after Thursday's practice.

And coach Tony DiLeo on playing the Magic: "I don't know if it's a good thing. They've won 59 games," he said.

Yikes!

Only two weeks ago, the Sixers clinched their second straight postseason berth and were flirting with the fifth seed. That would have delayed a matchup with Eastern Conference powers Boston, Cleveland and Orlando for at least another round and provided the Sixers with a reason to believe they could take a series.

Instead, after clinching, Philadelphia went into an inexplicable tailspin that included a season-long six-game losing streak. The Sixers needed overtime to end the skid and beat the Cavaliers' backups in Wednesday's finale that let them hang on to the sixth seed.

The last two games were the worst. Boston All-Stars Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett both missed Tuesday's game and the Celtics still knocked off the Sixers. With the sixth seed at stake, Philly squeaked by a Cavaliers team that rested LeBron James, Mo Williams, center Zydrunas Ilgauskas and forward Joe Smith. Delonte West and Anderson Varejao - Cleveland's two other starters - began the game but didn't play in the second half.

It was a win, but it sure didn't feel like one for the Sixers.

"That game should have been, easily, a 10-, 15-point victory," Young said.

Andre Iguodala questioned whether the Sixers were simply satisfied with a playoff spot and went soft down the stretch. The commitment and intensity on defense was noticeably absent, and three of their losses were to non-playoff teams.

"Any time you relax in this league, bad things happen," Miller said. "You've got to figure out ways to stay consistent. I think we relaxed a little bit and that triggered a losing streak - just like last year."

The Sixers' sensational second-half last year that propelled them into the postseason was tempered by a four-game losing streak entering the playoffs. They brushed off the skid and won Game 1 at Detroit, but lost the series in six games. Philadelphia has not won a playoff series since beating New Orleans in the first round in 2003.

The Sixers blamed some of their losing streak on losing Young (15.3 points) for seven games to a sprained right ankle. The Sixers won the first two without him, then lost the next five. The versatile 6-foot-8 small forward is the only other reliable scoring option besides Iguodala and Miller, and ended the season with 20 points and nine rebounds against the Cavaliers. Young's ankle felt a bit stiff and sore Thursday, but he proclaimed himself ready to play.

"The explosiveness is not there yet, but as far as me doing the same things I've been doing as far as moving and scoring a little bit, I think I'm fine," he said.

Center Samuel Dalembert is day-to-day with a strained right shoulder suffered in the Boston loss. Dalembert, their top rebounder and shot blocker, isn't expected to be limited once the best-of-seven series starts on Sunday in Orlando. Dalembert, Theo Ratliff, Reggie Evans and Marreese Speights all will be needed to try and shut down Howard.

"If it's a case where Sam is in foul trouble or injured and not quite as effective as we would like him to be, then we have other alternatives," DiLeo said.

For the Magic, Turkoglu (ankle) and Lewis (knee) are both injured but hope to play in the series. If Orlando's reserves are ready to show what they can do in the postseason spotlight, that could be big trouble for Philly.

The Sixers went 0-3 against Orlando this year and 0-4 against the Celtics, the team they would have played had they finished seventh. Even with Garnett likely out of the postseason, the Sixers are glad they're facing the Magic.

"We've had problems with Orlando in the past, we've had problems with Boston, too," Miller said. "Either way, you can pick. But you probably want to take the least experienced team."

Let's see what he says in two weeks.

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