PHILADELPHIA Larry Brown turned to his bench and saw Allen Iverson, Aaron McKie and Eric Snow in street clothes, Matt Geiger icing his knee, and four other players who weren’t on the team two weeks ago.
It’s no wonder the Philadelphia 76ers can’t win a game.
The defending Eastern Conference champions are off to an 0-4 start, their worst since losing five straight in 1997-98, Brown’s first season. Last year, the Sixers opened with a franchise-best 10 straight wins and didn’t lose their fourth game until Dec. 5, the 18th game of the season.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Tuesday’s 87-77 loss to Indiana was the lack of emotion from the younger players. The poor effort caused Iverson and Snow to lecture their teammates after the game.
“I’m sick about it,” Brown said Wednesday. “I thought we’d outhustle our opponents and it has not happened one game. We’ve got a lot of young kids unique to themselves who are trying to find themselves. I don’t think they have a lot of confidence. I think in their minds they’re trying.”
Because of all the injuries, Brown has been forced to start Speedy Claxton and Raja Bell in the backcourt. Claxton sat out his rookie year last season with a knee injury. Bell had played 20 games, including the playoffs.
The injuries have depleted the bench to the point where Brown used Tim James for seven minutes in Tuesday’s game. James, who was waived by Charlotte, had just signed earlier in the day.
“I’m thrilled for the young kids, but I’m putting too much pressure on them,” Brown said. “Other guys have to step up.”
It didn’t help against the Pacers when Dikembe Mutombo had more fouls (four) and turnovers (five) than points (three).
Philadelphia’s injury woes even got worse Wednesday. Derrick Coleman, averaging 16.8 points and 9.3 rebounds, sprained his ankle in practice, and Matt Harpring didn’t practice because of an ankle sprain. Both are probable for Thursday’s game at Houston.
After the Rockets, the Sixers play at Dallas and at Miami. They could be 0-7 by the time they return home to face Charlotte next Wednesday.
“We’re going to try to get a win or two or three,” Brown said. “We’re playing three good teams on the road. We’ve got to get better.”
The Sixers won 56 games last season, reached the NBA Finals for the first time in 18 years and captured the heart of a blue-collar, championship-starved city with their grit.
But injuries and a dizzying series of trades reshaped the roster. Only six players, including Iverson, McKie and Snow, are back from the team that lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals just five months ago.
Tyrone Hill, the starting power forward, and Jumaine Jones, a starter at small forward in the Finals, were traded to Cleveland in the deal that brought Harpring here. George Lynch, who started at small forward before getting hurt in the playoffs, was sent to Charlotte in a trade that brought Coleman back.
Backup center Todd MacCulloch signed with New Jersey as a free agent; reserves Rodney Buford, Kevin Ollie and Pepe Sanchez weren’t re-signed; and reserve Roshown McLeod was part of the trade with Cleveland.
“I don’t think players worry about who’s not there,” Brown said. “They’re trying to put themselves in position to do well.”
Without Iverson, the NBA MVP; McKie, the league’s Sixth Man of the Year; and Snow, the starting point guard, the offense has struggled. The Sixers are averaging 79.8 points, and have 78 turnovers, 34 more than their opponents.
Iverson (31.1), McKie (11.6) and Snow (9.8) scored 55 percent of the team’s average of 94.7 points last season.
“Our expectations were to win,” Bell said. “Coach’s expectations were to win. We haven’t lived up to that. We can’t point to Allen and Aaron … it’s all on us.”
Iverson (right elbow) and McKie (right shoulder) finally are close to returning after both had surgery on Sept. 25. However, neither is expected to play Thursday night. Snow broke his thumb in the first preseason game he played, and is out for up to three months.
“Right now, no one fears us,” Snow said.