In the 76ers' game plan the center never shoots—they don't have a center who can shoot—hence they are easy fish for double-teams. When defenders are not trapping Erving and McGinnis, they are sloughing off them, because neither is an exceptional outside shooter.
Free, who refers to himself as "All-World," is a sometimes brilliant shooter and a spectacular leaper for 6'2"—another nickname he favors is "The Prince of Mid-Air." But more often than not, All-World is in another world. "I'm as good as any guard in the league," the prince asserts. "I can score big or get 15 assists anytime I want. That's if our guys making the top bread are hitting, of course."
Defense is where most of the 76ers go limp. The backcourt relies on quickness rather than intensity, although neither Erving nor McGinnis is in the habit of hurrying back in the transition game. Catchings was valuable here because he did hustle back. Still, with all their high-priced inside men, the 76ers are among the top three in giving up offensive rebounds.
Says Mix, "I know if I played against this club, I could get seven offensive boards a game."
At the very root of the Philadelphia problem, though, is Erving, whose drive-for-the-hole style of play has been taken away by the NBA's clogging defenses down the middle. Otherwise, Dr. J remains an inconsistent jump shooter, an erratic passer and the kind of finesse-conscious defensive player who last week, for instance, was victimized by both Thompson and John Drew of Atlanta.
Erving was expected to shine and carry the Sixers, and his early decision to restrict his creativity to a periodic swirling whammer—he preferred, he said, to "involve others in the flow"—caused some instant disenchantment among the locals. More recently, however, his All-Star Game show and his dazzling play in the Cleveland comeback, wherein he absolutely took charge of the game, may have pointed to a new day. "A guy can't minimize his talents in order to maximize others'," says Collins. "We must have Doc to lead. Then we must learn to follow."
"We don't need Julius being nice and giving it up to everybody and overcompensating and all that," says McGinnis. "What we need is for him to just go play and be Dr. J."
It hasn't been that easy. Erving says he is more comfortable when there are close relationships among coach and players. Shue, he says, is "non-participatory" and the 76ers, apart from McGinnis and rookie Terry Furlow, "are not an easy group of guys to talk with.
"We still have no identity," says Erving. "The game is not a science here. We aren't ready to make the physical, mental and spiritual sacrifices for each other. Collectively, we are too often inept and confused."
So, whither Julius Erving and the team on which he was supposed to confer greatness? "To be a great team we need to stomp on people and keep them down," says Dr. J. "We need leadership from the backcourt. We need our centers more involved in the offense. We need me and George to hoss and hoss and hoss. To be great we need to win games we aren't supposed to win."