Collins might have a tougher time than he thought.
Thanks to Manny Pacquiao's 12-round destruction of Antonio Margarito in Cowboys Stadium on Saturday, the Sixers' 116-93 loss to the San Antonio Spurs wasn't the worst beating in the state of Texas last night. But it was pretty close.
This is the defining moment of the season so far; the game that shows that this Sixers team will have to learn how to crawl before it can walk.
Up until now, every game has been competitive; a fact that can hide some of the not-so-obvious flaws of a young team. After Saturday, it's clear that Sixers' head coach Doug Collins has his work cut out for him.
The two-game Texas swing started out on a good note: Friday's matchup against the Mavericks was the first time that the team was at full strength since they played Cleveland on November 5.
Andre Iguodala missed the first two games of the road trip with an injury to his right Achilles, while Jason Kapono had been away from the team dealing with a personal issue.
Even after getting off to a slow start against the Mavs (who shot 59% from the field in the first quarter), the Sixers hung with them for most of the game, eventually falling 99-90. Despite the loss, the Sixers got their best performances of the season out of Thaddeus Young (17 points) and Spencer Hawes (14 points).
Saturday night, however, was a complete mess. The 39 points that the Spurs scored in the first quarter were the most that they've had in any period this season.
San Antonio was even more impressive at the start of the second half, outscoring the Sixers 35-12 in the third quarter. But perhaps the most telling stat was that the Sixers finished the game with more turnovers (15) than assists (13).
"That's a championship level team... they just jumped all over us," said Collins following Saturday night's loss. "They could have beaten us by 60 tonight if [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] wanted to."
The most positive outcome of the trip (which mercifully ends in Cleveland on Tuesday) has been Collins's decision to settle on his third different starting lineup of the season. The Dallas game saw the debut of the starting five that most Sixers fans expected to see coming into the year.
With Iguodala back, Collins moved him to small forward, while Evan Turner remained in the lineup at the two-guard spot. The move not only gives the team two capable ball-handlers (Turner and Jrue Holiday) on the floor, it also allows Iguodala to operate from his more natural position at the 3.
That being said, there's going to be a steep learning curve for a young backcourt that has all of 93 games of NBA experience between them. Holiday was completely overmatched on Saturday night while trying to guard Tony Parker, who led all scorers with 24 points. Meanwhile, Turner had his worst game as a pro, going scoreless in 27 minutes of action.
It's a testament to this team that the Spurs game was the first this season in which they were completely outclassed. Prior to Saturday, their worst game to date had been the 99-86 loss in Indiana on October 30.
Only four games into last year's campaign, the Sixers had already lost twice by 14 points or more, including a 31-point blowout at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
While we're doing comparisons to last year, it should be noted that the 2009-10 team didn't record its 8th loss until the 13th game of the season. Which makes this season's 2-8 start all the more puzzling. The current version of the Sixers is clearly more talented than last year's edition, so why aren't those results showing up in the standings?
That's the question that Doug Collins faces as he prepares his team for the final 72 games of the season. This team still has a puncher's chance of making the playoffs, despite their less-than-stellar start.
But they need to come up with answers soon, or else they'll be too far behind on the scorecards for any of it to matter.
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