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Concerned About My 76ers

First things first. I am an authentic Philadelphia 76ers fan. Not of the Johnnie-Come-Lately-I Like-The -76ers-Since-They Drafted-Iverson variety. I am hard core, of the "been there since Dr. J had an afro; since we won the championship with Moses Malone; since we drafted Charles Barkley; lived through the trade of Moses Malone for Jeff Ruland; endured the constant meddling of owner Harold Katz; saw the 76ers waste draft picks on Shawn Bradley and Christian Welp variety". And because of all that I have suffered as a 76ers fan, I am especially nervous about my team in this year's NBA Playoffs and have a considerable amount of anxiety over tonight's game against the Toronto Raptors.

Not for one minute - when the 76ers began the season by going 10-0 or when the 76ers traded Theo Ratliffe for Dikembe Mutombo - have I ever believed that the 76ers would win a championship this year. In fact, when the trade for Mutombo went down and every body in the sports world was making plans for a championship parade down Broad Street in Philly, I was involved in intense discussions with my 76ers brain trust, made up of my blood Brother and two of our best childhood friends. In our discussions I offered the opinion that it may be reasonable to expect the 76ers to come out of the Eastern Conference as champions but that there was no way that I could rest my hat on a championship. I had and still have serious reservations about the 76ers' ability to overcome either the Los Angeles Lakers or the San Antonio Spurs, should we meet either opponent in the NBA finals.

But now, I even have serious doubts about the 76ers ability to make it out of the Eastern Conference. I think that should Philly get past Toronto, which is not a given, that either the Charlotte Hornets or the Milwaukee Bucks could defeat the 76ers. Both teams match up well against us and Milwaukee has the perfect style to defeat the 76ers. They can score a lot of points with deadly outside shooting. Of all of the teams in the East, I think Milwaukee probably stands the best chance against the Western Conference champion.

I understand why many people could be deceived into thinking the 76ers were the team to beat. After all on paper, the team is impressive. We have the Offensive player of the year in Allen Iverson; the Defensive player in the year in Dikembe Mutombo; and the NBA's 6th Man of The year in Aaron McKie (a true "Philly cat"). But that is all that we have.

As the excellent Philadelphia Inquirer basketball writer Stephen Smith wrote yesterday, the 76ers have virtually no reliable offense other than Iverson. And my theory is that Iverson is bound to have 2 off games in a 7-game series. So where does that leave us? That means that we spot any team we would play in a 7-game series, 2 free victories.

Anyone who watched last Sunday's game 1 against the Raptors knows that the 76ers are prone to have some of the worst scoring droughts in all of pro basketball. Their brick-laying episodes are almost legendary and when Iverson gets cold, you cannot count on anyone, except for McKie, on occasion, to bail Philly out.

The problem is not on of shooting ability. The 76ers, like any NBA team, have players that can fill it up. But the 76ers have an emotional shooting problem as they are filled with players of a certain temperament in order to suit Iverson's personality and style of play. Sometimes I cringe when I see ex-76ers and former Iverson teammates, Larry Hughes, Tim Thomas and Jerry Stackhouse pour in 20 to 30 + points a night. But I realize that they were not able to consistently do the same in Philly because they could not play with Iverson. They did not have the egos and mentality necessary to peacefully coexist with A.I.

But the current mixture of 76ers do have the required emotional makeup, and that is part of our problem. They are so used to deferring to Iverson on almost every trip up the floor that they lack the assertiveness and confidence necessary to carry the load when Iverson is off or when he decides that he wants to pass the ball (which he is doing more of these days).

Most disappointing to me in this regard is Eric Snow, our point guard. Snow was on his way to becoming one of the premier point guards in the league when he was hurt earlier this year. Since then, he has not been the same. He almost looks awkward at times, not knowing whether to shoot, pass or dribble, it seems. He is a skilled player but a step slower than he was before the injury and very, very, very, tentative when he shoots. Sometimes he actually looks like he doesn't want the ball.

Then there is Tyrone Hill who, in my estimation, has been the 76er most hurt by the presence of Mutombo and the loss of Ratliffe. He mishandles the ball, is out of position on rebounds and just seems out of it since the trade. He also is not a reliable source of points.

George Lynch is a good defender and rebound but cannot shoot to save his life. He is one of those guys who really has all of the fundamentals down and whose every shot looks good…but just never goes in the hoop.

And of course, among other things, there is Matt Geiger who makes $10,000,000 a year for doing absolutely nothing. The guy should be put in handcuffs right there on the court and carted away to jail for stealing money. Geiger always had potential and every other game will show you what he could do, but at this point when I see Geiger all I can think of is Chris Webber - a player that we could afford to bring to Philly as a free agent next year if it weren't for our being saddled with Geiger's welfare check.

So, think of me tonight if you happen to watch the 76ers play. I think they will win and take the series from Vince Carter and the Raptors but it will not be a pretty thing to watch. And your heart should go out to any 76ers fan as well, this team can literally give you high-blood pressure or an upset stomach - they make so many simple things look difficult.

Just ask our head coach Larry Brown.

I never thought I would have to wait 20 years to get this close again to a championship, but "close" only counts in horseshoes.

We'll take this one game at a time, starting tonight.

Cedric Muhammad

Wednesday, May 9, 2001

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