It’s going to take a couple of lucky breaks for the 2010-2011 76ers to realistically grab a lower seed in the NBA’s postseason. For starters, Doug Collins is back coaching for the first time since 2003 and last year the Sixers were bad enough to garner the number two pick in this past June’s draft lottery.
Saturday night, our Sixers caught a beautifully timed break during the first game of the daunting 8-game December road trip. The Orlando Magic had just eight active players in uniform at the Amway Center after General Manager Otis Smith exchanged a healthy portion of his team (Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and Rashard Lewis) for some risky veterans being shopped (Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu). The 76ers (11-16) would put together a superb second half to top Orlando 97-89.
So the Magic were just a tad undermanned; probably sending out their worst lineup since the pre-Dwight Howard era which began in 2004. But the key word— Dwight Howard— was in full Superman mode, scoring 26, luring in 20 boards and totally annihilating momentum Spencer Hawes had recently built as an acceptable big man.
But Howard alone wasn’t enough to overcome three Philadelphia 20-point scorers and the continued tenacious defense. For the sixth game in a row, we’ve held opposing offenses to under 42 percent shooting.
The 76ers shining stars Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala finally scored 20 points in the same game! Each took over different quarters of the game but remained high-octane the entire evening.
The best way to describe AI9’s jump shot against the Magic would be soaking wet. The net was splashing on the majority of his eight field goals made and 21 points. He poured in 9 of those points in the first quarter. With Lou Williams in at the one-guard, Iguodala also took on the role of main distributor and accordingly dished out seven dimes while only turning the rock over twice.
And we can add Quentin Richardson to the list of Iggy’s defensive victims. Q was held to just six points and wore his frustration virtually all night. Iguodala has now scored at least 18 points in three straight games for the first time since late February of last season.
On a night where the Sixers knew that rebounds were going to be difficult to come by, Elton Brand still turned in one of his best efforts all season on the glass. EB extracted 13 boards from thin air and nine of those were in the first half. Brands blazing third quarter helped Philadelphia amass 31 points in the docket; a quarter in which Doug Collins has admittedly stated has been one of the weakest parts of his team.
In that third period alone, Brand knocked down four mid-range jumpers, a put back, a layup and two free throws to pace the 76ers. He finished with 20 points all together. Brand also tried to do his best Dwight Howard impersonation by blocking three shots.
Reserve Lou Williams delivered like the milkman Saturday night in Central Florida. Lou was pushed into action from the second quarter on because of another lackadaisical effort from starting point guard Jrue Holiday. Williams made the most of his 30 minutes finishing with 24 points on 13-of-14 free throws. Williams was fearless from the moment he checked in from the scorer’s table. He went after Dwight Howard in the paint—the NBA’s Defensive MVP mind you—and shot over 50 percent from the field for the first time this month. He also nabbed six rebounds and turned the ball over once.
The fourth quarter rightfully belonged to Lou, who converted all eight of his free throws and hammered the nail in Orlando’s coffin with a three pointer to put Philly up 90-75 with less than 3:30 to play. Saturday night was Lou’s first scoring effort in the 20’s since November 2nd in Washington D.C. In a game like this you would’ve expected Jameer Nelson to go off for more than 17 points. Credit Williams’ stingy defense and efficient footwork for throwing off the former all-star point guard.
Some Sixer faithful message boards were questioning why Orlando wouldn’t try and trade for Lou Williams instead of Gilbert Arenas, and I agree with them. Lou and Gilbert are very similar players; streaky shooters and decent defenders who can play the one or two. Plus Lou would come with entirely less scrutiny and possible chemistry issues. We could’ve gotten Gortat out of the deal too. SI.com was proclaiming the Magic are now contenders again with their new moves. I think just the opposite. Orlando GM Otis Smith can add this Gilbert trade to his list of trading for a washed up Vince Carter and trading away Trevor Ariza for Brian Cook as highlights of his resume. Adding a superstar piece like Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony would have been much more beneficial to the Magic. It’s going to take at least one month for these guys to get used to each other. The Magic may slip all the way to a number five seed now, behind Boston, Miami, Chicago and New York.
The Sixers had just 15 fast break points but the pace of Saturday night’s game was very up-tempo. We had nearly 50 possessions in the first half and by midway through the third quarter it was apparent to everyone in the building that Orlando was gasping for air. In turn Orlando had weak legs and struggled on the charity stripe going 14-for-22 (63 percent).
Since November 27th, the 76ers have been one of the best teams in the East. Winners of 8 of 11, the 7-6 is dominating opponents defensively and clicking enough on offense to pull away in the second half. The three losses during this span have come to the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics in nail-biting fashion, and a moral victory over the Lakers, where the main strategy was to stop Kobe which was a success due to his nine points. The win in Orlando (shorthanded or not) provides further evidence that hiring a team oriented coach in Doug Collins was a wise move.
Philadunkia Notes :
- As nice as this victory feels, there were quite a few sour spots….
- Jrue Holiday has a combined 11 points in his last two games. Doug Collins clearly wasn’t pleased with his lack of effort on the defensive end as well and Holiday rode the bench for much of the contest. I pointed out in my road trip preview column that his play over this stretch was going to be critical to 76er success. And with Derrick Rose and Rondo looming, something (attitude, carelessness etc.) needs to be changed soon.
- Spencer Hawes was brought back down to earth after three consecutive games in which he’s looked as good as he has in his entire career. I expected him to drop off against Dwight, but not become completely irrelevant (two points, two boards and fouling out in 26 minutes). Things will ease up in Chicago though with Joakim Noah out indefinitely
- Jodie Meeks has absolutely cooled off from his first few games as the starting shooting guard. Meeks missed all three of his triples against Orlando and is three for his last twenty from downtown. We could possibly see an Evan Turner in the starting lineup in the near future.