With the All-Star festivities taking place this weekend in Los Angeles the NBA season will officially be moving into second gear. Time for the sophomore rookie challenge, the skills competition, and of course Lebron James again being “too good” for the slam dunk contest. Most importantly time to get beyond All-Star weekend and look and what lies ahead for the 76ers.
The All-Star break comes at a great time for a young Sixers team in need of a rest. With hobbled players like Andre Iguodala, slowed by an Achilles injury and a wrist injury, some time off will be well appreciated. The Sixers go into the break only two games below five hundred with a 27-29 mark thanks to a win Wednesday night over the Houston Rockets. The Sixers had 27 wins total all of last year, with 26 games remaining in the season they are impressively ahead of last year. They are currently sitting as the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference, only 2 games behind the Knicks for 6th.
"Absolutely, this was a big win with the all-star break coming up. It’s a momentum game to have everyone feeling good. When it starts going you just roll with it. We battled hard and took control of the game" Spencer Hawes said postgame.
After starting out the year with a 3-13 mark the same old dreadful Sixers seemed to be the appropriate thought. It took some time to get the Eddie Jordan bug out of this young group but Doug Collins has been nothing short of Coach of the Year thus far at the break. Since the 3-13 start the Sixers have gone 24-16, losing ten of those games by less than 5 points. The level of competition that Collins has the Sixers playing at is almost unfathomable when looking back and comparing to just a year ago.
The mood of Philly phans is slowly starting to change towards positivity for the 76ers. It takes a lot of winning to erase the poor taste of the last few years and well the Sixers are learning to do that at an alarming rate. The turnaround has been so dramatic it is hard to believe it is relatively the same players on the floor. With the Flyers the NHL points leader in the East, the Eagles division title, and the Phillies entering spring training, the Sixers have gotten buried in the headlines. Before you know it the Sixers will be in the playoffs and it will be too late to jump on the bandwagon. The usually barren Wells Fargo Center is starting to fill up and basketball is becoming relevant again in Philadelphia
Five things to look for as the Sixers head into the final 26 games of the season. They are a young team with a lot of promise but the East is loaded with veteran teams prepping to make a championship push. The Sixers are looking to go from basement dwelling to playoff contending.
1. Collins must continue to preach complete basketball games.
Doug Collins is a perfectionist when it comes to execution. Even in the final minutes of a 15 point blowout he hates to see sloppy basketball. I have no doubt that he will continue to push this team and continue to make them more efficient. His coaching style is the reason for the Sixers resurgence and will be the reason for their continuing improvement. The beginning of the season when Collins was still trying to shake the Eddie Jordan cobwebs off, the Sixers couldn’t play four quarters to save their lives. They are now playing complete, grind it out style basketball games.
2. The Sixers need to prove their worth against the NBA’s best
When the Sixers shocked the best team in the league the San Antonio Spurs earlier this month it was a statement game for the Sixers. As they say winning breads winners and that was by far the biggest win of the year for a young team in need of a statement win. The Sixers have 7 games out of the 26 remaining against the 6 teams ahead of them in the East. It will be important to win at least 5 of those 7 to gain some much needed confidence going into the playoffs.
3. Continue to win home games
With the fan base increasing every day the Sixers home games will be vital to bringing life back to the city for its basketball team. At the All-Star break the Sixers are 17-9 at home and with 26 games to go they will play 15 of those at the Wells Fargo Center. There is nothing like the energy in the building of the Wells Fargo Center for playoff basketball. As the Sixers continue to win home games the seats will continue to fill up.
4. The Sixers need continued bench production
A lot of the Sixers success can be contributed to the production they are getting from their reserves. Lou Williams has been the 6th man of the year for the team. Williams not a pure shooter thrives in his ability to come off the bench and create shots and scoring opportunities. He leads all NBA reserves with free throw attempts which show his ability to get to the basket. With other reserves such as Evan Tuner and Thaddeus Young providing a spark the Sixers bench has been impressive.
5. The rise of Jrue Holiday
Holiday is slowly developing into a star for the 76ers. Collins has allowed Holiday to play his style of basketball and it has paid dividends. Holiday is currently averaging 6.2 assists, 4 rebounds, and 13.8 points per game. The Sixers stole Holiday with the 17th pick in 2009 and his huge upside is just now starting to blossom. Holiday’s continued success will determine how far this team goes and how quickly they grow to championship status in the East.
With 26 games to go the NBA season is rapidly approaching the playoff push. After the All-Stars are done showing off for all of Hollywood it will be back to business as usual and Doug Collins will be back to schooling his young team on how to re-play basketball.
The Sixers have 7.5 games between them and the 5th place Hawks which is a lot, but not an impossible, amount to catch. I foresee the Sixers finishing with an 18-8 mark in the last 26 and a 45-37 record overall. Not bad for winning 26 games in 2009-2010.
With a young team and a hot streak to end the season the Sixers could shock a team like Atlanta or Chicago in the 1st round. Reality shows that the East is loaded and tough from 1-5. The Sixers will provide a challenge for any team in the East and regardless of the outcome it will be considered a successful season for a rising team.