Turner under the gun for Sixers

Posted: March 07, 2012

IT CERTAINLY seemed like a sink or swim night for 76ers second-year forward Evan Turner on Monday, when coach Doug Collins threw him into the starting lineup and piled more playing time on him (32 minutes, 11 seconds) than he has gotten since Jan. 11.

Turner started in place of Jodie Meeks, who entered Monday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks mired in a 8-for-32 shooting slump from three-point range. Not a good sign when all you're really asked to do is drain the long jumper on a somewhat consistent basis. But Collins had stuck with Meeks before Monday, giving him the majority of minutes for the most part at the "two" guard. And though his three-point shot was missing, Meeks was finding other ways to score, having hit double figures in three of the five games before Monday.

Meanwhile, Turner's minutes have been dropping, with none coming at the end of close games. Collins said Turner's minutes were being soaked up by Andre Iguodala, who was needed on the court for his defense. Lou Williams also has been carrying serious minutes to try to help alleviate the team's offensive struggles. And all the time, Turner has mostly watched. For the year, he is averaging a little less than 24 minutes a game. So why was he out there for so many minutes in Monday's 97-93 loss? Was Collins looking for a spark on a team that has been pretty much without one for 3 weeks? Or is it something else?

Since its 20-9 start, Collins' team has lost eight of 10. If that isn't bad enough, most of those losses have been heartbreakers - games in which fourth-quarter leads vanished as quickly as the Sixers' offense. Monday was no different, as the Sixers shot a paltry 13-for-49 (26.5 percent) from the floor in the second half. So looking for a solution, of any kind, is paramount on Collins' list. So does that mean Turner?

At the beginning of the season, when Turner's confidence was through the roof, his play reflected that. He showed glimpses of being the one who won player-of-the-year honors after his junior season at Ohio State. He took the ball to the basket with authority. The midrange jumper - Turner's bread and butter in college - was consistent, and his longer outside shooting improved.

Then something happened. He and Collins had an encounter at the end of the Orlando Magic game on Jan. 30. The Sixers had controlled most of the game and seemed poised to register a blowout win, then they allowed the Magic to score 18 points in the final 2:40, making the win unnecessarily close. Television cameras caught Collins after the game chiding Turner, who proceeded to throw a towel in obvious disgust. Both played it off the next day as nothing more than "heat of the battle" intensity, but maybe that was a turning point.

In the six games leading up to that game, Turner averaged close to 26 minutes a game. Since that game, he has played 26 or more minutes only twice - 2 nights later in Chicago and Monday's game in Milwaukee.

During his extended time on the court Monday, Turner, who appears a little heavier than he was earlier in the season, seemed very rusty. His ballhandling wasn't there - he fumbled with the ball numerous times - and his feet seemed ahead of his body much of the night.

After the game, sporting a small cut and bump over his right eye, Turner said the night was "kind of a blur." He said he felt fine, though he obviously labored much of the night.

Could it be that Collins was giving last season's second overall pick a wake-up call? Surely the coach couldn't have liked the 1-for-12 shooting performance, but did it maybe teach Turner some sort of lesson that staying in shape and keeping focused during this sprint of a season is not only expected, but necessary?

Whether this team can survive in the future with both Iguodala and Turner remains to be seen, but it won't be known unless they are on the court together for an extended time. Maybe that's what Collins was taking a look at. Or maybe the coach does see Turner as being the boost needed from the outset of games.

Or maybe the second-year pro needed to see where his game is right now and to realize he has much work to do. If that's the case, Monday certainly had to be an eye-opener.

Contact staff writer Bob Cooney at cooneyb@phillynews.com or @BobCooney76 on Twitter.

Read his blog at www.philly.com/Sixerville.

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