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Sixers play some Boring basketball

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It was painful to watch the Sixers attempt to play basketball at the Delta Center recently.

Not painful because Philly is struggling to find the rhythm that made it an NBA Finals patsy for the Lakers last season.

Painful because they're just Boring.

With a capital B, and that rhymes with D, and that stands for Defense.

Now, defense is a good thing. The NBA could use more of it. But what the Sixers practice isn't defense.

It's assault.

Coach Larry Brown obviously drums into his players the idea that if you whack opponents every time they touch the ball and even sometimes when they don't, the refs aren't going to blow the whistle on every possession, and you'll consequently get away with a lot.

Not to mention get under the skin of an opponent, as Philly forward Matt Harpring did by clutching and grabbing Donyell Marshall until the normally mild-mannered Jazz forward got himself tossed.

Which Marshall should have been tough-minded enough to deal with, but that's another column.

Marshall's mistake was taking his ire out on the refs instead of popping Harpring a few times. Actually, Marshall did give Harpring a couple mild frustration shots, but since they were retaliations, he got caught and whistled, which is typical for the NBA.

In another recent game, the Lakers' Robert Horry apparently threw a headlock on Harpring and wrestled him to the ground. Horry received a foul and both players were given technicals.

Even without seeing that incident, it's easy to guess what really happened. Harpring pestered Horry until the Laker forward retaliated. Chances are the league folks are well-aware that Harpring not only looks like a Marine, he plays like one.

Jerry Sloan would love him.

Anyway, Brown's spin on the game against the Jazz was that the refs were unfair to both teams, although he did mention that his star, Allen Iverson, got bumped a lot without a whistle.

That's one way to look at it.

But here's another way: Iverson tries to get bumped. He tries to get bumped a lot. He wants to get to the line, so he drives into the middle, throws up some gosh-awful shot, lets out with a big "Unhhhhhh" as if he's been hit by an Amtrak, then waits for a whistle.

Sure, Iverson gets bumped. Everyone gets bumped in the NBA. A guy can't play in this league anymore unless he can play while getting bounced around like a pinball.

That's expected.

What shouldn't have to be expected is Philly reducing a game to an incredibly tedious hackfest.

The Sixers no doubt point to the fact they rank among the top five NBA teams in opponent field-goal percentage as evidence that what they are doing works.

And it's hard to argue with that. But it's possible to play good defense without turning the game into something bordering on professional wrestling.

The Lakers, for instance, hold opponents to even lower field-goal percentages than the Sixers. But do you recall the Lakers being painful to watch?

OK, if you're a Jazz fan it's painful to watch the Lakers reel off championships. But from a strictly objective spectator point of view, the Lakers aren't boring.

Neither are the Nets and Clippers, who also rank in the top five.

But the other member of the top five is another boring team, and a team that, like the Sixers, is struggling this season: Pat Riley's Miami Heat.

Ever since his days with the Knicks, Riley has been a proponent of ugly defensive games.

Well, maybe there's a correlation between the Sixers' and Heat's travails this season and the brand of ball they're playing.

Maybe, just maybe, we're starting to see basketball again.


E-mail: rich@desnews.com