At week's end the 76ers (30--33) had gone 4--5 since acquiring Chris Webber, dropping them four games behind the Atlantic-leading Celtics and earning hometown boos. Webber was averaging just 15.1 points and shooting 37.5% while trying to adapt to Allen Iverson's offense.
But fans who complain that Philadelphia needs Webber and Iverson to become a high-scoring combo are focused on the wrong end of the floor. The Sixers are struggling because, through Sunday, they were 8--25 when they failed to score 100 points, thanks to a field goal defense ranked 19th in the league (44.8%). The acquisition of Webber was never going to boost Philly's D: His chronically weak left knee has limited him to 0.75 blocks per game, less than half of his career average. "I've heard comparisons to Rasheed Wallace going to Detroit, but Rasheed was joining a team that had back-to-back 50-win seasons," says 76ers coach Jim O'Brien. "[Becoming] the type of defensive team that can do something this year is our challenge."
The key to improvement is 6'11" Samuel Dalembert, the raw third-year center who at week's end was averaging 2.6 fewer minutes (23.9 this season) and one-third fewer blocks (1.55) while struggling with O'Brien's directive to front the post rather than guard the rim. Dalembert's frustrations have raised hopes around the league that he may leave as a restricted free agent this summer, but Sixers G.M. Billy King vows that he will match any offer.
O'Brien's teams tend to improve defensively down the stretch because he emphasizes the same reads and rotations every day at practice. He insists that his system will ultimately bring out the best in the 23-year-old: "Samuel has a chance to have as much of an impact over the next five years for this franchise as Allen Iverson or Chris Webber."
JOSEPH KACZMAREK/AP (76ERS)
The acquisition of Webber created buzz, but not consistent scoring help for AI.