An abundance of things have changed since November 23rd, the date of the 76ers previous heartbreaking loss to the Wizards in Washington DC. Most glaringly, the Wizards now have Rashard Lewis instead of Gilbert Arenas, a move deemed by the Wizards chief decision maker Ted Leonsis as a move for the future. The outlook for Washington presumably loos like another top five pick in the June NBA draft, while Philadelphia’s on the other hand could entail some home playoff games at the Wells Fargo Center.
But if you take a deeper look under the microscope of change you may say the biggest difference in the last 44 days since has been the growth of Jrue Holiday, whose 26 point, nine assist performance helped carry Philadelphia (14-21) to a 109-97 victory; a win that pushed the Wizards road record to 0-17, the worst since the 2001-2002 Chicago Bulls.
Holiday’s no longer shy about letting his opponent know early on who the boss of this Sixer team is without Iguodala. Jrue helped guide for the team’s six-for-six start from the field and kept the offense in his control much the game. In fact the first basket of the game seemed like a reality check for Washington, where the Wizards teammates sorted of looked in awe of Holiday as he sunk a standstill 16-foot jumper John Wall’s eye. As is often the case with Jrue, he didn’t just limit himself to jumpers. There were distinct acrobatic reverse layups on Wizards 7-footer JaVale McGee, crafty left-handed crossovers and finishes near the bucket. Holiday finished the evening going 10-for-14 from the floor and 6-of-9 from the line.
In his last six games Holiday has averaged 21 points and 8.6 assists per game. Move over Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings; there is a new second-year guard who is starting to turn heads in arguably the strongest Eastern Conference since the days of Michael Jordan.
Holiday’s defensive strategy against perrenial rookie John Wall was like a game of cat versus mouse. Jrue gave Wall the jump shot rather than letting him play his semi-dominant dribble and drive game where in previous wins he’s scored tons of early points. His defense helped setup exactly what the Sixers wanted to do offensively. Holiday started a little sloppy with two turnovers early on but committed just one in the rest of his 39 minutes. He without question has been the most valuable player on this team since Christmas.
A prediction for you: Holiday’s ceiling could be somewhere near three-time all-star Kevin Johnson of the Phoenix Suns, a guard known for his ability to get the rim, hit three’s when he has too and arrange the undersized Phoenix offense. The NBA last season for Holiday was like letting a 16-year-old kid drive a bus. There were bumps and bruises but there were also times his bus stopped and picked up some believers along the way. Now he’s starting to drive this bus with ease, without a star player. Watch out.
At halftime, I was wondering to myself why this game was even close. The Sixers were shooting 57 percent, outhustling and outrebounding Washington and were getting to the free throw line with ease. But Doug Collins strange decision of sitting a hot Elton Brand —he was obliterating Andray Blatche in the first quarter for 10 points—kept this identifiable trap game too close for a long while.
The see-saw affair would tip the Sixers way for good after Lou Williams buried an open three pointer putting Philadelphia up 83-81 with 7:41 remaining. Williams had his first 20-point outburst from the bench since the 12/18 victory over the short-handed Orlando Magic. Wednesday night was just another day at the office for Lou; forcing those awkward foul calls (10-of-11 from the line) and connecting on two substantial triples in place of the struggling Jodie Meeks.
What if Meeks’ cold streak continues on through January? Lou scored 26 points in 26 minutes tonight. Somehow Lou’s only averaging 21.9 minutes a game this season, less than Evan Turner and slightly better than Andres Nocioni. Williams needs to be called on more in the fourth quarter of games if this franchise is committing itself to making the playoffs this season.
Though the Sixers saved their prime offensive quarter until the fourth (33 points) the team finally decided it was time to play defense, holding the Wizards to just 22. Defense is the basketball attribute that has propelled this team for much of this season. The Wizards couldn’t find many open looks down the stretch, which transcended into frustrated players committing stupid defensive fouls. The Sixers shot a season-high 38 free throws
Things could have gotten hairy down the stretch. Starting center Spencer Hawes was limited much of the second half after re-aggravating a back injury suffered during warm-ups in New Orleans. Credit forward Andres Nocioni for playing much bigger than his size. Although Rashard Lewis often times was wide open, Nocioni managed to grab a team-high 10 rebounds also matching his season best. Nocioni has seen a revival in his minutes and production. Over the last four games the Argentinean is averaging 14.5 points after sitting on the bench for much of the December month.
After what Doug Collins called ‘his two best practices of the season’, Marreese Speights seems to now be the backup center over Tony Battie. His defense may always be a problem throughout his career and he’s often out of control on fast breaks, but Speights is turning the corner in Collins’ system. Tonight’s eight points and seven rebounds were needed, especially the three offensive boards.
Doug Collins combated his flu-like symptoms well enough to guide the Sixers to their eighth home win out of the last ten games. Considering the lack of offensive production Collins has been given from Andre Iugodala and Evan Turner the job he has done with this roster is praiseworthy. Iguodala has now missed nine games this season—that’s 26 percent of the games played —and his field goal percentage is a career worst 43 percent. And we all know about Evan Turner.
Recent NBA power ranking columns have been kind to the Sixers future and I have to agree. Of the 48 games left only 19 of them are against teams with a winning record. The Sixers have 27 games left at home compared to 21 on the road, and the treacherous road trip is behind them.