By the time Andrew Bynum returns for Sixers, it will be too late

RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Flyers' Scott Hartnell (left), Claude Giroux and Matt Read take in Sixers-Nets game on Tuesday.
RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Flyers' Scott Hartnell (left), Claude Giroux and Matt Read take in Sixers-Nets game on Tuesday.
Posted: January 09, 2013

SIXERS COACH Doug Collins rarely makes solid declarations. He's savvy enough to understand there always has to be wiggle room just in case bad things happen.

No coach wants to see a definitive statement go awry and then have to answer, "Well, what do you do now?"

When the Sixers started an eight-game road trip with a loss in Brooklyn 2 days before Christmas, Collins addressed the prospect of continuing on through the Western Conference by saying that no matter how things turned out the Sixers were "still going to have 50 games left.

"So if we're going to bank our season on whether we win them all or lose them all on this road trip that would be a bad thing to do," he said at the time.

See, wiggle room.

After returning to Philadelphia licking their wounds from a 2-6 trip, the Sixers actually had 47 games left.

Make that 46, after a 109-89 beatdown courtesy of the Nets at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday. That wasn't the homecoming the Sixers wanted, and it certainly wasn't the one they needed.

More than half the season still remains, but with the Sixers (15-21) now six games under .500 and three games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, it's difficult to envision this team putting things together and making a legitimate push for the postseason in the second half.

The Sixers, who have lost four straight and 15 of their last 20, aren't in a bad stretch. They're a bad team.

What the Sixers have shown since they started spinning down the drain with a loss at Chicago on Dec. 1 is pretty much what they are. They don't have enough consistency.

Right now, the only magic bean that could change the Sixers' fortune is the return of center Andrew Bynum, who hasn't played this season, but says his knees are improving.

On Monday, Bynum said he has been working out on the treadmill, doing a lot of fast-paced walking and is, hopefully, close to returning.

It sounds like a broken record to keep talking about what might be different if Bynum ever actually suits up for the team that traded what amounts to four first-round draft picks to acquire him.

But what else is there?

The hope was that the Sixers would be able to stay near the surface of the water until the All-Star center arrived with something like half of the season remaining.

That doesn't seem realistic anymore.

Bynum might play in the final 35 games or so, but by then, the Sixers could be so far out the playoff race, it won't matter.

Considering Bynum hasn't even practiced, it's impossible to say what the Sixers would, or would not, be like if he was on the court.

All we know for sure is that Bynum won't be playing Wednesday night when the Sixers face the Raptors in Toronto.

When they return from Toronto, the Sixers will play 12 of their next 14 games at Wells Fargo, taking them to the All-Star break starting Feb. 14.

If the trip out West wasn't a season-determining stretch, this upcoming spell of home games most certainly will be.

Half of the teams coming to South Philly (Houston, San Antonio, New York, Memphis, Indiana and the Los Angeles Clippers) have winning records and half (New Orleans, Toronto, Washington, Sacramento, Orlando and Charlotte) have records worse than the Sixers.

Even if the Sixers somehow managed to beat all of the bad teams, they would have to find a way to beat a couple of the good. They would also have to win at Toronto and twice in Milwaukee to make a successful run into the All-Star break.

Can anyone see the Sixers, as currently composed, winning 10 of 15? Collins has already done all the tweaking he can possibly do to get the most out of this roster.

What I see is the Sixers' being nine to 19 games under .500 at the All-Star break. And only 31 games will remain.

Then it won't matter what kind of lift Bynum, if he is playing, will give, because the Sixers won't be able to win enough games to make the playoffs - not with 18 of their final 31 games on the road, not with four games with Miami, three with Atlanta and ones at New York, Chicago, the Clippers and Denver.

We've seen that the Sixers are a bad team without Bynum.

They may actually become a good team when/if Bynum gets on the court and stays there, but by the time that happens, it's going to be too late to do anything but wait for the NBA draft lottery.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: philly.com/Smallwood

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