LOS ANGELES -- The Philadelphia 76ers are a team in search of an identity.
If they're not careful, they might find it a lot quicker than victories on a brutal seven-game road trip that began last night against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Sports Arena.
And, if they're not doubly careful, they might not like the identity they discover.
"This is where we'll find out what kind of defensive team we really are, whether we can hold down our turnovers on the road, whether we can rebound the way I believe we can," Sixers coach Fred Carter said.
The pessimist (a role Carter never portrays) says the Sixers could, despite the presence of the dreadful Dallas Mavericks, go 0-7 on this trip.
"We're among the better teams in the league in scoring defense, blocked shots and steals; that's the horn I toot," Carter said, preferring those attributes to his team's overall 9-15 record or 3-7 road record.
"We need to guard against getting in a negative streak. Then, the games can become rhythmic. Fly, play, lose. Fly, play, lose."
The optimist (hello, shooting guard Jeff Hornacek) suggests they could win three, or possibly even four, games.
The Sixers fill out their dance card with games against Golden State, Phoenix, Denver, San Antonio and Houston. They are more likely to finish 0-7 or 1-6 than 3-4 or 4-3.
"I see four winnable games," Hornacek insisted. "I see Phoenix, Houston and San Antonio as extra-tough places to play, and I see Denver as possibly the toughest. The Nuggets don't have a good overall record, but they win a lot at home.
"To go 3-4 or 4-3 would be realistic. Three wins would be decent, four would be good. But to do it, we need to play to our capabilities, to stay aggressive."
Those ingredients all but disappeared in Wednesday night's 98-90 loss to Miami at the Spectrum, leaving Hornacek seething.
Hornacek called it a "boring" game, saying the Sixers needed to play "a little wild" to be effective. He said they were basically beaten as soon as it became obvious they would walk the ball up the floor, rather than attempt to increase the pace, creating easier scoring opportunities.
"Sometimes we play good defense, but we could manage what we're doing a little better," he said. "We need to make teams take tough shots earlier, rather than allowing them to get off good ones as the shot clock is winding down.
"When we have the ball, we need to push it up the floor. The games we lose, we're content to play halfcourt and we're not good enough to win that way."
Suddenly, then, the Clippers coming off Thursday's 141-95 loss to Golden State and four losses in their last five games are the opponents in what could be construed as a big game.
"I try to be careful with that," Carter said. "If you make it too big and you're unsuccessful, then it can become too big a downer.
"To me, it's the first game back after a loss, but we're playing a team that got blown out in its last game. That can be more of a problem than anything else."
Still, motivation should not be a problem.
"The first one on a trip has to be a big one, because it gives you a chance to break the ice," Hornacek said. "I've always liked playing on the road, because if you get hot, you can win one after another. Lose the first one, there can be a tendency to press."
The key to all of this, of course, is Shawn Bradley, the 7-6 rookie center. If Bradley is able to establish his presence in the paint, even if his statistics aren't terrific, the Sixers are in a far better position.
"I just want to see him with the same attitude every night," Hornacek said. "Some nights, he blocks a lot of shots, other nights he doesn't. Either way is all right, as long as he goes after them. If he sits back, if he's a step slow reacting, then we're not as good. Maybe if he gets off to a good start, if he sees he can do it, it'll drive him."
NOTES: Fred Carter is contemplating using backup center Moses Malone as an occasional starter at power forward in place of Tim Perry, leaning on Malone's experience and rebounding. . . . Rookie guard Greg Graham was 45 minutes late arriving at Sunday's practice at the Forum. "My flight was delayed two hours by air traffic control," Graham said, knowing he faces a mandatory fine. . . . Carter had no regrets about having sent the players through a workout Thursday. Had the Sixers beaten Miami on Wednesday night, Carter had planned to give them a three-day break.