It will be the first thing everyone talks about the moment this season ends, however and wherever it ends. Years from now, it will be seen as the building of a foundation or as fool's gold. But that is for later, for hindsight.
Here and now - even on a night such as this one, when the Sixers battled the Dallas Maverics but couldn't overcome the hottest team in the league, losing by 101-93 - the Sixers' inexperience launches them and it also holds them back. Still, to be this young and to be a .500 team with legitimate playoff aspirations marks this ride as different, as special, even now.
"I've seen growth with our team where we've had a tough night, we've come back and won a big game,'' Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "I've seen growth with this team where we've had a big win and come back and followed up with a nice win. Those are all things, to me, that show the team is getting older and better and more mature.
"I lean heavily on these guys . . . When I go in the gym every day, I get a jolt of energy because I'm around young people and I'm very much young at heart."
Going into last night, the Sixers had six players under the age of 25 who averaged at least 19.9 minutes per game: Jrue Holiday (34.9 minutes), Lou Williams (23.5), Thaddeus Young (25.9), Jodie Meeks (24.8), Evan Turner (24.5) and Spencer Hawes (19.9).
Six is a lot. It doesn't happen even once a year in the league, on average. And when it does happen, it almost inevitably leads to brutal losing. The idea that the Sixers have a chance to win 40-something games with this young of a core is an accomplishment worth more than a passing nod.
In the last dozen NBA seasons, the only team that has made the playoffs with six kids playing this much is the 2004-05 Chicago Bulls, who won 47 games and lost a first-round playoff series to Washington. As for the rest, they won an average of 21 games.
Because kids are mistake-prone sometimes, and they are impatient all the time. As Turner said last night, "Sometimes you want the microwave effect to happen."
When it doesn't, you begin dealing with a whole set of emotions that an established player worked through long before. That's when youth happens. Then, and also at the end of games - times that, earlier in the season, were so often undeniable horrors for the Sixers.
Last night, they didn't collapse as much as they failed to rise to the moment. Turner was bad on a couple of fastbreaks. Free throws were missed down the stretch. They just were outplayed at the end by a seasoned team on a roll; no excuses and no explanations necessary.
"What you really saw tonight, to me, was their big-game experience and their playoff experience just trumped our energy and effort tonight," Collins said.
Or, as Elton Brand said, "Close-game experience. It showed up tonight."
With everything they have done so far, they still are not ready to win games at that level. They aren't likely to be ready for a while. But if we have learned anything so far, it is that Eddie Jordan really did a bad job dictating from his script last season, and that Collins has done a masterful job of mixing and matching and adapting this season, and that the people picking the players have given this coach an interesting group that is winning more and sooner than anyone had a right to expect.
"I love being around young people," Collins said. "I love their energy. I love to watch them grow. And then I like when they get to a certain point in time that they really feel good about themselves. That's what our guys are doing."
If not last night, then most nights.
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