Inside the Sixers: Sixers need to get to the basket, and the line, more often

Andre Iguodala is fouled by the Thunder's Serge Ibaka during Wednesday's game. No team draws fewer fouls, and at the line the Sixers rank 21st in the league in free-throw percentage.
Andre Iguodala is fouled by the Thunder's Serge Ibaka during Wednesday's game. No team draws fewer fouls, and at the line the Sixers rank 21st in the league in free-throw percentage. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 04, 2012

If the 76ers are going to improve their chances of being more successful in the playoffs than they were last season, they are going to have to not only shoot better from the free throw line, but they are going to have to get there, somehow, more often than they have thus far.

It's not going to matter against the dregs of the league, teams like Detroit, whom they beat earlier in the week by 29 points. The Pistons are blazing a trail toward the lottery, so it didn't matter that the Sixers attempted just nine free throws compared with the 20 by Detroit.

But that's just not going to get it done against, say, Memphis, which defeated the Sixers, 89-76, right before the all-star break.

The Sixers, ranked 21st in the league in free-throw percentage, held Memphis to just 39.7 percent shooting from the field, a percentage low enough to allow any opponent the opportunity to win the game. But the main difference was Memphis making 29 trips to the line, 21 more than the Sixers.

This, of course, came on the heels of the team's heartbreaking 92-91 loss at Minnesota. The Sixers had to watch helplessly - and with a palpable hint of irony - as Kevin Love coolly toed the line and nailed a pair of freebies with 0.1 seconds left at Target Center.

Multiple variables factor into this. To begin with, the Sixers get much of their offense from the perimeter; they're not looking inside very often to their young big men or the undersized ones who don't take many looks at the basket to begin with.

Additionally, the Sixers have obviously developed a reputation around the league as a team that doesn't attack the basket very aggressively. They don't establish this early - sometimes not at all - and it tends to plague them for the duration of games, especially in the fourth quarter.

In the five games that preceded the Sixers' much-needed win over Golden State, the Sixers' opponents made 102 free throws (129 attempted). Conversely, the Sixers attempted just 66 (53 made). They have attempted 10 free throws or less in three of their last five games. For a point of reference, this happened just three times in the previous four seasons combined from 2007-08 through 2010-11.

No team in the league draws fewer fouls than the 16.5 per game that the Sixers do.

It was even worse during the recent stretch of games where they lost six of seven when the Sixers averaged fewer than 14 free throws. Those games were decided by an average of eight points, and some of them were double-digit losses (at Orlando and at Memphis). But in their four-point loss to Oklahoma City, the Thunder attempted 22 more free throws than the Sixers did.

"It's something we notice but it's really something that we don't have a lot of control over," Sixers reserve forward Thaddeus Young said not long after the Houston game. "We're out there playing hard and hoping to get whistles just like everybody else."

One of the reasons why the Sixers are having trouble scoring is that teams know that the way to beat them is to get them into a half-court game, something that becomes easier because they are not a very good rebounding team.

When they are forced to play this way, the Sixers like to get a lot of pick-and-pop baskets, especially when Spencer Hawes - who is expected to be back in about two weeks or so - is on the floor.

But the Sixers can't wait for Hawes' return, and you get the sense that by now his teammates don't even pay attention to the most recent deadlines for his return.

In the meantime, they are going to need to make a concerted effort to get more attempts going toward the rim to get to the line more. Doug Collins is coaxing pretty much everything out of the talent on the roster - did anyone honestly expect them to be sitting atop the Atlantic Division at this juncture of the season? - but wins are going to be even more difficult to come by in the remaining 29 games left in the regular season. And the Sixers need to take advantage of everything they can.

Especially when it's free.

Contact John N. Mitchell at Follow him on Twitter @JmitchellInquirer.


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