Loss Puts Sixers Out Of Playoff Picture

Posted: April 15, 1992

Mitchell Wiggins was a blast from the past, a tiny point of light in a dark and dismal season.

In the 76ers' 79th game, on the night they were mathematically eliminated

from a playoff berth and were guaranteed a lottery pick, he did what he had hoped to do all season.

Wiggins scored a season-best 19 points, matched his season-best of eight field goals, in 12 attempts. But because this is the Sixers season that never really was, he was still just one more soul adrift in a sea of hopelessness.

The Sixers lost, 99-94, to Boston, their third defeat in succession at the Spectrum and their seventh in their last 10 appearances at home. Wiggins did a rare postgame television interview, then shook his head abjectly at the emptiness of the moment.

"Every night, it just seems like we rewind the VCR," he said.

Roll tape. The Sixers sunk a little bit lower, falling to 33-46, losing their fourth straight overall, their eighth in their last 10 games, their 13th in their last 16.

"I know I'm still a good player," said Wiggins, who came into the game averaging a modest four points and shooting just 37.7 percent from the floor. ''It looks better when you win, and I'm used to winning."

He is 32, refusing to believe he is at the end of the line even though, after three more games, he will become an unrestricted free agent. He is already looking ahead to early May, when he intends to report to the Miami Tropics, of the United States Basketball League.

"So I can play basketball," said Wiggins, who signed a contract with the Sixers last July. "I haven't really played this season. I'm used to being healthy, to contributing, and I've been injured, off and on, for a year and a half. It's a done deal for me down there, I just haven't officially signed. I'll be somewhere playing ball next season, here or somewhere else."

Maybe Wiggins didn't hear Sixers owner Harold Katz say there "will be a lot of changes" before next season. Maybe he didn't need anyone to repeat the obvious.

Still, they at least tried to delay the inevitable, offering a reasonable effort against the Celtics (49-31), who needed the victory to stay within a game of first-place New York in the Atlantic Division. After being down as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter, the Sixers clung to the most slender of hopes coming out of a timeout huddle down three points with 15.9 seconds remaining.

But Ron Anderson's three-point attempt with 7.4 seconds left flicked off the rim, a microcosm of a long-gone season.

"It summed up my night," said Anderson, who has led the Sixers' subs in scoring 58 times this season but shot 2-for-12 from the floor last night and scored eight points. "It's been that kind of a year. It ticks me off that the season is over too soon. I hate the fact that we have to end it."

And, no, Anderson hasn't forgotten that two seasons ago the Sixers won the division title and lasted two rounds of the playoffs.

"We had a different team two years ago," he said. "We had veteran leadership. This year, that wasn't there. I wouldn't bite my tongue about that. Two years ago, we had Rick Mahorn and Mike Gminski, and they gave us that (leadership)."

And what did they have through this sorry season?

"Losing," Anderson said. "I learned a lot about the business, about individuals, about chemistry that wasn't there."

About distractions? Police blotters? Stinging locker-room comments? Criticism cloaked in anonymity?

"I'm mature enough, old enough to shut it out," Anderson said. "Those things are not part of my everyday life. My main priority is not to get caught up in other things. I know there will be changes, (but) I don't know what they're going to be."

One welcome change came last night when Charles Barkley - who dislocated the middle finger on his left hand in New York Friday night - played 43 minutes after not playing at all in Sunday's loss to Milwaukee. Barkley had 19 points and seven rebounds, supporting a 20-point night by teammate Hersey Hawkins on a night when backup point guard Greg Grant remained in Trenton, N.J., with his wife, who was about to give birth.

Still, it wasn't as if Barkley was out there solely to try to prevent the Sixers from being eliminated.

"Miami or Atlanta had to lose all their remaining games, we had to win all of ours, and they weren't going to lose all of theirs," Barkley said. "This is no great shock."

The worst part of it all?

"Just losing," Barkley said. "That's the only bad thing that happened to me all season. Just losing. That's the only negative.

"It could be worse, it could be something really significant. Not making the playoffs can't be one of the most significant things in your life. There's nothing you can do about it. It's not a tragic thing."

And what might be the odds of Barkley's returning to the Sixers next season, as opposed to the odds of his being part of the changes Katz talked about?

"What are the odds of dying every day?" Barkley said. "It's a chance. I don't know what people expect. If they trade me, it might not be the worst thing in the world. If they keep me, it might not be the worst thing in the world."

SIX SHOTS

Sixers center Jeff Ruland, who has missed 17 games while recovering from a partial tear in his right Achilles' tendon, said he and attorney Kevin Plunkett intend to file a lawsuit against the Boston Celtics and the Boston Garden tomorrow in Trenton, N.J.

Ruland said he was hurt Jan. 17 in Boston, when he was hit from behind by a luggage cart while waiting to board the team bus. He joined the team Jan. 7 after five seasons in retirement because of a knee injury. He signed a contract that called for a pro-rated minimum salary of $130,000 and $10,000 for every game in which he played or was available to play.

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