I promise this circles back to basketball.
My sister was a very good long-distance runner for Dartmouth. Some of her best friends are her former teammates: guys and girls who can reel off 5-minute miles as easily as I can empty a bag of mini Reese’s. A few months ago, I joined some of them to run the Philadelphia Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon. The night before, we were eating the customary Italian dinner — carbo loading! — and we went around the table to share our goal times. A few of the very best runners in the group started talking about pace and how to achieve the desired result. Although it seems like common sense, they explained some things about internal pace that relate very much to basketball.
Here’s a summary of what was said:
Let’s say the goal pace was a 5:05 mile. They explained that the most crucial check point was going to be the 5-mile marker: if they weren’t within a few seconds of a 5:05 pace at that marker, there was little to no chance to make the goal time. Let’s say they started slowly in an attempt to “rest” and “save energy” and therefore ran the first five miles at a 6-minute pace. They explained that there wasn’t a direct correlation between energy spent and energy saved. That is to say, just because they ran the first five at a 6-minute pace, saving 55 seconds of energy, that wouldn’t mean they were then capable of running the last five at a 4:10 pace, picking back up those 55 seconds. Doesn’t work that way. The amount of effort required to make back the lost seconds of pace — to “come from behind” — took a much more drastic toll on the body. Maintaining a trained-for pace came much more naturally, and at less of an energy expense to the mind and body.
In other words, come-from-behind victories, even in running, are much more difficult. They’re possible, but you can’t execute them repeatedly, and each time you do, you’re tapping into a special reserve. Similarly, these runners never felt comfortable when they hit the 5-mile marker too far under the pace time. Inevitably, it would be a sugar high: they would crash during the race’s most grueling part, miles 7-10. (Or, for us basketball players, the “third quarter.”)
The Sixers need to maintain pace better. Here are the scores at the end of their four first quarters so far this season: 26-15 (behind), 25-18 (ahead), 29-22 (ahead), and 25-19 (behind). That’s bi-polar. Over the course of the season, playing too many games on either end of the spectrum isn’t a recipe for success.
Doug Collins needs more stability from the first unit. You can’t effectively game plan if you’re unsure what each unit is going to give you. The NBA’s best teams can go into a game saying, “OK, we know — give or take — we’re going to get X amount of production from our starters.” Occasionally, the starters might explode for big-time points, or the starters might have an off night, but if you looked at a large sample size, you’d see consistent production. We can’t say the same thing, yet, about the Sixers’ starting unit (but to this point Lou Williams has provided so much scoring that it hasn’t become a huge issue).
As the season progresses, the margins are going to become slimmer.
Also, as we wrote in the third blog post of the season (Why 34 Wins Is More Likely Than 40), the trade of big man Marreese Speights was inevitable. I understand the thought process of “Speights was the No. 16 pick of the first round, so why would two second-round picks be enough?” But what became the reality of his situation in Philly — and what I tried to write time and again last season — is that there were too many other factors keeping him from being an effective player under Collins — and on the current roster. The Sixers don’t need a little-defense scorer on the second unit: that’s why they have Williams. I know it’s easy to get caught up in Speights’ bright moments: the pretty outside jumper and a few of the thundering dunks. But the reality is, he couldn’t dance. He could score. He could shoot. He’s probably a killer 1 on 1 player. But none of it was in rhythm to the other players on the floor.
Also, here’s my essay from Monday: “One on One.”