PHILADELPHIA -- For the third time in a month, the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves trailing 2-1 in a playoff series. Anybody want to write 'em off as dead again?
''It's still the same thing. People are still questioning what this team is capable of doing,'' Aaron McKie said Monday. ''When does it come to a point when you say this team is good?''
Just being good hasn't been good enough to get the 76ers past the Los Angeles Lakers in the last two games of the NBA Finals.
With the series not resuming until Wednesday night, Philadelphia has two days to sit and wonder if its reservoir of resiliency can be tapped one more time or whether that well has run dry.
To outsiders, the Sixers looked like a beaten team after Game 3 of the conference finals against Milwaukee -- a game that Allen Iverson sat out because a hip injury. But the Sixers somehow gained strength from that six-point loss, walking away knowing they had more heart than the Bucks.
A similar thing happened in Toronto during the second round, when coach Larry Brown moved McKie into the starting lineup in place of Eric Snow. McKie scored 18 in Game 4 as Philadelphia evened the series.
The 76ers can rest comfortably in their own homes before trying to tie things up one more time.
''I've got a lot of energy to finish out this series, definitely,'' Iverson said Monday. ''I mean, this is a dream of a lifetime.''
That dream was a lot more pleasant several days ago after the 76ers stunned everybody but themselves by winning Game 1 in overtime.
They have been within striking distance in the final minute of Games 2 and 3, but it has been Kobe Bryant, Robert Horry and even Ron Harper -- not Iverson or McKie -- hitting the clutch shots that have made the difference.
If the Sixers hadn't missed 10 free throws in the fourth quarter of Game 2 or had rotated quicker on defense to get a hand in Horry's face, a different team might have had a 2-1 lead -- or a 3-0 lead.
''They do play hard. They're very competitive. When you play with your effort and play with your heart, it's going to keep you in a lot of ballgames,'' Bryant said. ''I don't think you can say they're a better team than San Antonio. That's far out. But they do play with so much desire and so much hunger that it keeps them in a lot of ballgames.''
The Lakers are now 13-1 in the playoffs, and victories in the next two games would give them the best winning postseason percentage in NBA history. The 1982-83 76ers hold the record of .923 (12-1).
Los Angeles is 6-0 on the road in the playoffs, one shy of the record for consecutive road wins set by the Houston Rockets in 1995.
''I don't even look at the home court as a big deal anymore,'' Sixers coach Larry Brown said. ''We've lost a game at home in every series this year, and we've been lucky enough to get one back and win.''
Brown will have small forward George Lynch available Wednesday night for the first time since Game 4 of the Raptors' series. Lynch, who has been sidelined with a broken left foot, will be the backup to starting small forward Jumaine Jones. He also could see time at power forward in place of Tyrone Hill, who has been ineffective in this series.
''The decision is already made,'' Lynch said. ''It's just one of those things: How much can I go?''
Lynch might also play alongside Jones or Raja Bell if Brown elects to go with a small lineup as he did at the end of Game 4.
Brown underwent some second-guessing Monday for his decision to sit Dikembe Mutombo late in the fourth quarter after Shaquille O'Neal had fouled out.
''I thought I made a hell of a substitution. Kevin Ollie made a three-point play,'' Brown said. ''We felt it was necessary to put in our pressing team, which got us back in the game.''
O'Neal, who fouled out with 2:21 left, accused Mutombo of flopping and refused to back off those comments Monday.
''I said what I said and I meant what I said,'' O'Neal said. ''Treat me like a game of checkers. Play me.''
This is the first time since 1994 that the first three games of the finals have been decided by less than 10 points.
Casual fans have taken notice, too, as evidenced by a 20 percent rise in overnight television ratings compared to last year's Indiana-Los Angeles finals.
Heading into the finals, NBC's playoff ratings were off 14 percent from last year.
Iverson is being viewed in a different light, drawing appreciation for his toughness and scoring ability from the same public that was wary of Iverson through his first five seasons in the league.
''It's a good thing because people are trying to take the opportunity to try to understand me instead of just judging me from the mistakes I made in the past and the way I look and who I'm around,'' Iverson said. ''Now that we're winning, people are paying a little more attention now.''
Only problem is, the Sixers aren't winning anymore -- at least not since last Wednesday.
Game 4 will come on the one-week anniversary of that victory, and there will be a legitimate argument for writing the Sixers off if they don't come away with a win.
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