After the inevitable November 26th Philadelphia 76er loss to the Miami Heat, I began drafting a piece for this website on the potential lottery picks we could scoop up in the top five of the upcoming draft. After all, the Sixers had just dropped games in Washington and Toronto to worsen their record to an appalling 3-13.
But wait a minute, hold on just a second. I can stop the presses now on an early NBA lottery preview because the Sixers (7-14) have won four out of their last five games, including their last five games at the Wells Fargo Center.
The striking thing about the Sixers last four wins is that the team has had a different leading scorer each night, and none of them have been named Andre Iguodala.
Jrue Holiday, Elton Brand, Jodie Meeks and last night’s leader Thaddeus Young, have all catapulted themselves to become big time scorers when they need to be. This in turn frees up Iguodala to play the role of utility man, a much more effective way of employing Iggy’s talents rather than the leading scorer. It took nearly 20 games to get adjusted to a new style of basketball but nearly every team member finally seems to be adjusting to the role Head Coach Doug Collins has carved out for them.
Tuesday nights 117-97 trouncing over the Cleveland Cavaliers almost looked like a scripted recital rather than a basketball game. The Sixers scored 35 points in the opening period and got a huge boost all evening from its bench. Thaddeus Young scored a season high 26 points (seven in the first quarter) and hauled in 11 rebounds. Young’s recent play off the bench has been sensational — he’s scored in double figures 11 out of his last 13 games.
Did you know that Thaddeus Young is third in the entire NBA in field goal percentage? Last night’s 11-of-12 performance unquestionably helped his cause, but Young (59.5%) is the only non-big-man ranked in the top 10. When Thad gains possession of the rock good things tend to happen. Young even launched a disgusting looking deep three pointer late in the fourth quarter that somehow fell through the net.
I noted one specific play that the Sixers executed perfectly, and used as a springboard to quiet any surmounting Cleveland offensive run. Early in the second quarter the Sixersled 37-29, a very slim margin still with about 35 minutes of basketball still to play. After Jawad Williams missed a short floater, Spencer Hawes grabbed the board and without hesitation fired a terrific outlet pass to Lou Williams. Lou picked up the ball right near the half court logo and drove directly at the ever-aging Antawn Jamison. Normally you would expect Williams to do what he does best, and draw the foul. But at the very last second possible Williams fired a chest pass into the waiting arms of Thaddeus Young, who proceeded to throw home a monster jam. That play alone — produced in chief by the Sixers bench — crushed whatever remaining life the Cav’s had last night.
And that’s just the kind of evening it was for Philadelphia. Shooting 51.9 percent from the floor, draining 25-of-30 free throws, seven playersscoring at least 10 points, committing just seven turnovers and out rebounding the Cav’s 44 to 29. Doug Collins referred to center Spencer Hawes as the “Ace of spades” from Tuesday night’s victory. Hawes — for once — looked like a big man to respect in the Eastern Conference by snatching a season-high 12 rebounds and posting 10 points. Hawes is averaging six rebounds in his last 10 games, a vast improvement of the 2.9 he was averaging in the 11 games prior. Defensively things were even better for Hawes, who bested Cleveland’s ball of energy Anderson Varejao, limiting the seven-footer to four points and eight rebounds. Hawes’ at last provided a big presence in the paint, forcing Cleveland to take more jumpers than they probably would have liked to.
I mentioned in my Saturday recap win over the Charlotte Bobcats that we play our best basketball when we are moving in transition. Tuesday night brought more of the same results as the 76ersfinished with 24 fast break points. Jodie Meeks’ energy and alertness on where to spot up on the break have been uncanny over this past week. His three point shot torched the home court nets again. Meekssailed in four shots from behind the arc and ended up with 16 points which tied Jrue Holiday as a game high for Philly starters.
I mentioned how Iguodala can now become more of a utility man thanks to the increased scoring performances of several different Sixers. And against the Cav’s you saw exactly what he can do when he doesn’t have to be “The Man.” Iggy’s seven dimes matched point guard Jrue Holiday’s total. Jodie Meeks’ emergence has opened up the offensive role of a slasher, which in my opinion is what Iguodala does the best. He threw down two ferocious dunks, but more importantly willed his way to the free throw line eight times.
Is it time to order your Eastern Conference playoff tickets yet? Well, not exactly. The Sixers last four wins have been against opponents who are headed down the wrong path: New Jersey, Portland, Charlotte and now Cleveland. The 40 games for each of these franchises has resulted in 12 wins and 28 losses.
But all of a sudden Philadelphia isn’t in the basement of the East and things are looking up.