The Philadelphia 76ers will split their two game season series with the New Orleans Hornets after losing 84-77 on Monday night. Unlike the first time these teams met — with every Hornet not named Paul struggling to hit field goals — the Hornets had a well rounded effort including four players in double scoring figures. For the 76ers (13-21) the loss comes without the help of starting center Spencer Hawes (back spasms) and star Andre Igoudala who remains sidelined with his Achilles strain.
The good news last night was the final ball game in the squad’s dreaded eight game road stretch.
Igoudala’s presence was really missed in the fourth quarter after the 76ers went on a 9-0 run with 3:52 remaining to limit the deficit at 77-73. For the closing minutes of the ball game the 76ers offense was stagnant, failing to attack the rim and produce good shot opportunities. The near four minute end produced only one field goal from Elton Brand and a pair of free throws from rookie Evan Turner. A sad way to seal out the ball and in large part due to the unavailability of Igoudala.
There was stretches in the ball game when this team clearly misses AI9’s ability to create and penetrate on offense. With Iggy out again thanks to Achilles tendinitis, which has plagued him all season, the 7-6 drop to 3-6 without his services. And it’s the most evident when the game is on the line against a good defensive team like the Hornets — second in points allowed at 92.1 per game.
Stepping in for the star slasher was the familiar replacement Andres Nocioni who started the ball game hot. Nocioni who plays some of his better basketball against the Hornets — career averages of 12.9 points per game on 46.5% from the field — didn’t miss in the first quarter connecting on four shot attempts for 10 points. However, only hit one more shot from downtown after the Hornets buckled down their defensive efforts for the remaining three quarters. Following 26 points scored in the first quarter, Nocioni and the Sixers didn’t amass 20 points in each of the remaining periods.
Andres was joined by a new face in the starting lineup when Marreese Speights was on the floor for tip-off. Speights put together a solid performance shooting 5-8 from the field for 12 points and grabbing six boards. Early in the contest he hit two mid-range jumpers which has been a nice facet to his ball game. With his athleticism though, you hate to see Speights stray away from the basket often. If Marreese could improve on his back to the basket game — something Thaddeus Young showed off on the night — head coach Doug Collins could find more use for him in the rotation.
A player who has been in Doug Collins’ dog house and out of rotation is Jason Kapono. Since November 17thagainst Toronto, Kapono has not seen the floor. With AI9 out and Jodie Meeks struggling to get shots off, Kapono got some critical moments in the fourth. In his limited time on the floor, you learned why Kapono hasn’t been playing only connecting on one three pointer and missing a technical free throw after being chosen by Collins to deliver. Kapono with the game in reach and a five point deficit, missed two three-point attempts, settled for a poor two-point jumper off the dribble and lost the ball out of bounds while attacking the basket. Don’t expect to see much more of JK72.
Unlike Kapono, Speights’ and Nocioni’s solid double digit scoring was joined by Elton Brand (14), Jrue Holiday (12) and Thaddeus Young (10). But no one really had a standout performance which was needed, and the Sixers shooting on the night — 34.1% — ultimately destroyed their chances. Even with a poor performance the players have to be somewhat relieved their toughest road stretch has finally closed.
The ending of the eight game road stretch leaves the 76ers with a 3-5 record and wins over Denver, Phoenix and Orlando. Losses against the Lakers, Hornets, Celtics, Bulls and Warriors. Considering we are 1.5 games behind eighth place in the Eastern Conference, Iggy missed three games, Lou Williams also missed a pair and we’ve played 20 road games to only 14 home games thus far; things could be on the upswing for the 7-6.
It all begins this week with two home games against opponents we’re 0-3 against — the Wizards and Bulls.