Say Hello to the Sixers
Team ball has revitalized Philadelphia.
by Cris Jones | @HeirJones
“Tank the season so we can get another lottery pick!”
“This team won’t be worth watching ’til after Brand’s contract ends!”
“Evan Turner’s going to be a bust!”
Those are just a few quotes, of the non-explicit nature, that were spewed by 76ers fans prior to and during the 2010-2011 season.
Its truly funny how things change, because a majority of those same fans have changed their tune upon the Sixers’ noteworthy turnaround. Since their dreadful 3-13 start, the Sixers have gone 23-15, and the fans have slowly started creeping on the wagon.
Yes, that makes 26 wins—one shy of the team’s 27 win total last season. And to put their 26-28 record in perspective, the Sixers are 4-12 in games decided by five points or less. Just imagine, this team could be jockeying for fifth, or even fourth place in the East if not for numerous meltdowns. Here are five losses that should have been Sixer W’s: two games v. Washington, one v. Detroit, one v. Orlando, and a 21-point mega-collapse v. Memphis. Yeah, the Sixers have fell victim to missing free throws inside of a minute, which have lead to multiple defeats. What team hasn’t? But how many other teams have given up game tying 4-point plays with 17 seconds left in regulation? And then also find a way to give up another 4-point play in overtime of the same game? Inexplicable. There just aren’t many teams like the Philadelphia 76ers. But even through all of their heartbreaking woes, the Sixers’ worst nights seem to be behind them.
Those who don’t reside in the Delaware Valley may be unaware of the Sixers’ progress. But this team has been playing some of the best team basketball in the NBA over the past two months. When I say team, I mean TEAM. A rejuvenated Elton Brand leads the Sixers in scoring with only 15.3 ppg. After Brand’s first two seasons in Philly, many were left wondering if the acquisition of EB was the correct move. Countless injuries and an ’09-’10 season that was more lost than Jack Shepard made Brand look like a shell, of the shell, of his former self. But Brand’s play this season clearly dispelled the notion that he’s nearing the ramp to the NBA retirement home. Brand’s mid-range game is still intact and his craftiness and leadership are at an all-time high. For evidence of Brand’s reemergence look no further than his 33 point, 16 rebound effort against the Knicks on Feb. 4.
And then there’s the 80 million dollar man, Andre Iguodala. He has seemed to finally embrace the role of leader, which was set aside for him way back when the first A.I. left town.
Although Iggy is only averaging 14 ppg, his demeanor has clearly transformed. Maybe it’s Doug Collins’ use of Iguodala as “point forward” that has him exploiting his strengths of slashing and distributing. Or maybe it’s just because winning is more fun than losing. Whatever it may be, it has Andre Iguodala looking more like the Olympian that he is, rather than the trade bait he is always rumored to be.
The Sixers also have a solid second year point guard that no one appears to be talking about. Jrue Holiday has had his ups and downs this season. Actually, the month of February has been the epitome of Holiday’s play this season.
Holiday’s first career triple-double came on Feb. 1, but then it was quickly followed by a home-and-home versus the Knicks in which he put up a combined 8 points in two games. A 3-point performance against the Magic on Feb. 9 only continued his slumping play. However, Holiday redeemed himself with a 27-point outburst in a surprising win over the Spurs on February 11. In a defensive struggle in which no other player scored more than 16, Holiday showcased his ability to carry the scoring load, against the league’s best team no less. Holiday’s participation in this weekend’s Rookie-Sophomore game should expand his budding game to a wider audience.
The key to the Sixers’ play lies in their bench. Thad Young creates a mismatch on offense for slower defenders and is too long for shorter ones. Evan Turner has started to show flashes of potential, and signs that he could play the 1, 2, and 3. But the Sixers’ ultimate bench weapon is Lou Williams. Yup, move over JET Terry and Jamal Crawford, Williams is this year’s Sixth Man of the Year. Williams is averaging 13.7 ppg off the bench, bringing the offensive spark that the Sixers’ desperately need every night. Lou has continually outperformed the opposing team’s best bench players, all while doing a little rapping off the court.
76ers’ head coach Doug Collins truly deserves early Coach of the Year consideration for cultivating this franchise player-less team into a balanced attack that believes it can win every night. Give Collins credit for having the courage to make decisions that not many other coaches would even consider. For instance, inserting Jodie Meeks into the starting shooting guard spot has paid off. Meeks’ ability to shoot from deep has provided the Sixers with better floor spacing so players like Iguodala and Brand can operate within the half court offense. Collins’ decision to also bring Evan Turner along slowly irked fans initially, but that move also seems to be paying dividends now as well. Even the spot minute usage of vet Tony Battie for defensive purposes has been quite the intelligent move. Hey, maybe us Philadelphia fans don’t know more than our head coaches.
It is nearly inconceivable that a team that began 3-13 could possibly be .500 before the All-Star break. And with two games left before the rest period (Tuesday at Memphis, Wednesday at Houston), the 76ers could be 28-28. Wake up basketball world, the Sixers are relevant again.