Sixers can't afford to waste homecourt advantage

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Dorell Wright reacts after being called for a third-quarter foul.
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Dorell Wright reacts after being called for a third-quarter foul.
Posted: November 15, 2012

THIS FORMULA will not work. In fact, the last two games have been the exact opposite of the path the Sixers took to reach last season's playoffs.

It's a simple equation. Beat the guys you are supposed to beat and protect your home court.

Do those two things and there's a good chance you will find a way to the postseason.

So, yes, Wednesday night's 94-76 loss to the previously winless Detroit Pistons at the Wells Fargo Center was a big deal for the Sixers.

You can lose back-to-backs to the much-improved New York Knicks. You can even drop a game against the evenly matched Milwaukee Bucks at home.

But if the Sixers are going to stay above water until January, when the long-anticipated arrival of center Andrew Bynum will hopefully occur, they can't get kicked around at home by a team as bad as Detroit.

You never want to play a bad team with a losing streak approaching double digits. That's when the law of averages starts to work against you.

Still, the Sixers gave this one away.

The Sixers scored a season low and shot a dismal 29.8 percent - the lowest shooting percent for an NBA team in the history of the building.

They got pounded on the boards by a margin of 57-38. In a most remarkable statistic, the Sixers had only four turnovers to 17 for Detroit, yet still lost by 18 points.

The Sixers don't have a margin of error large enough to afford many such giveaways.

There are games you should win and games you absolutely must win. Monday's fit into the latter category.

"We were playing against a team that was desperate, 0-8," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "I don't know how many times I asked the coaches sitting on the sidelines, 'What's going on?'

"I have no idea, but we were in slow motion."

Winning games at home and beating up on bad teams matters. Beating bad teams at home really matters.

Last season, the Sixers laid the foundation for their playoff run by going 9-1 in an early 10-game run.

Only two of the teams the Sixers beat during that run ended up making it to the postseason.

While a lot of critics dismissed the Sixers' wins because of the quality of the opposition, the bottom line is that the race to the playoffs doesn't evaluate who you beat, just how many wins you end up with.

A win against the Pistons might not garner as much respect as a win against the Miami Heat, but in the end, both count the same.

The Sixers got 24 of their 35 wins against teams that did not qualify for the 2012 playoffs.

Without dominating lesser teams, the Sixers likely wouldn't have qualified for the playoffs.

Of course, it's early, but last season, the Sixers set up an early cushion that helped when the opposition got tougher.

So don't dismiss the significance of a loss to the lowly Pistons, who had started 0-8 for the first time in franchise history.

"I have no answers why we were so flat," Collins said. "I have no idea, but we have not played well at home all season long."

Combined with the Monday loss to Milwaukee, the Sixers have started this five-game homestand with consecutive losses.

One thing Collins has emphasized since he took over was that he wanted his team to establish that the Wells Fargo Center would be a real homecourt advantage.

In Collins' first season, the Sixers won only 36.5 percent (15-26) at home. Last season, they improved to 57.5 percent (19-14).

"I wish I knew," Collins said. "This is the same team that went on the road and won three straight games.

"When we started tonight, I look at our coaches and said, 'We have no energy.' As a coach, you're like, it's just eight games into the season so why?

"They came out tonight and executed. They defended us. They were bigger, stronger and knocked us around."

Now the Sixers are 1-3 at home. In last year's lockout shortened season, they didn't lose their third home game until their 15th game at Wells Fargo.

"It's frustrating," Sixers center Spencer Hawes said. "This is a place that we have to be able to care of.

"But at the same time, we've played four games here, so it's not the end of the world. We're going to get it right. We're going to get back on track."

The current pace cannot continue, not if the Sixers have plans of acquiring a decent seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

If - and I know it's a big if - you go on the assumption that Bynum will be ready for action come January, then the Sixers will have two-thirds of the season remaining to establish what their identity for a playoff run.

But they can't fall so far off the pace if they want to secure one of the top four seeds. And a team really does need to be a top-four seed if it wants to mount a serious challenge for a deep run.

It's just too hard to achieve something positive when you're a low seed and your path starts with a trip to Miami or Chicago or Boston.

The Sixers learned the formula a year ago, but there has been a lot of turnover on this roster.

"That's not it," Hawes said. "This is a good group of guys. There is a way we have of doing things here, and we don't plan on changing that.

"The guys who have come in here all have a reputation for that, too. We know what is expected of us. We'll get this turned around."

Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: philly.com/

JohnSmallwood

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