Saturday night the Sixers (26-28) absolutely demolished the Timberwolves 107-87, to come within two games of .500, the first time since the team started 0-2.
If this contest was played in December, or even January, it would have had trap game written all over it. We had lost nine out of our last ten at the Target Center, and the night following our best wins usually had resulted in a disheartening loss. Now its mid-February and Doug Collins can completely transform the identity of this team depending on who the opponent is. Tonight it was fast break basketball (24 points) and an extreme use of ball-handlers that wore the T-Wolves down. The Sixers are 4-1 in their last five road games and have won the past two on the road by a combined 54 points.
After giving up 32 first quarter points I started getting that lump in my throat and said to myself ‘here we go again.’ But a 20-3 second quarter run exposed absence of Darko Milicic (weird I know) and how bad the Timberwolves are in transition defense. Seven players were in double figures last night in some of the most unselfish basketball of the season. The Sixers show 51 percent from the field and opened up an 11 point lead heading into the fourth quarter, a comfortable cushion for a playoff-bound team.
On the very day there were confirmed Thaddeus Young trade rumors, the 22-year-old forward decided to lead the way with 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting, his most efficient game so far this month. Young was a big part of the Sixers run in the second quarter, posting eight points in the docket. He was an unheard of +28 on Saturday.
In the overall grand scheme of things, losing Thad could be a huge mistake. I know the names Camby and Gortat look intimidating on paper but it won’t be worth losing one of the best sparkplugs in the eastern conference. Camby is extremely old and would be more like a rental. And Gortat shoots the ball way too much, something the Sixers already have a problem sharing. The Sixers had survived this far with just Spencer Hawes, they should keep pushing and wait until the off-season.
The key to this game was preventing Kevin Love from going off for Moses Malone like numbers. Credit Elton Brand for limiting the Minnesota all-star to only three offensive rebounds and just 16 points. Brand repeatedly pushed Love out to the three point line, forcing Kevin to drive instead of post up. Even though Brand had just 12 points, much of the Sixers success this month can be attributed to his increased scoring this month. A February average of 18.8 and 9.7 rebounds are an increase from the 14 and 9 Kevin Garnett is averaging this season. If there is some sort of injury to a forward in the all-star game next week, I really think the league should look closely at Elton.
On most Sixers blogs Jodie Meeks gets his fair share of criticism. He isn’t a good defender and his cold streaks can alter the Sixers play. There is just no way anyone could have expected the third-year-pro to be averaging nearly 10 a game especially sharing minutes with Turner and Lou Williams. Collins has found an excellent role for Jodie on this team. He’s scored at least 14 points five times already this month and benefits when Iguodala
Coach Collins has said that this team is practicing as hard as can remember with any group and tonight one lineup really impressed me. Collins has figured a way to use Jrue, ET and AI9 together. The three rotated the basketball in certain situations; Iguodala working the post, Jrue pushing a fast break and Turner slowing down the tempo. It’s valuable to have an abundance of ball-handlers. And who knows how long term these players will be together. Still, Collins even experimented with this lineup in the fourth quarter. He’s instilling trust in Jrue and Evan for the playoffs. The young combo did not commit a single turnover in Minnesota.
Not one player was limiting the Sixers tonight. Spencer Hawes scored 12 points in 6-of-7 shooting, Iguodala was 8-for-9 at the line and even Darius Songalia (who?) and Andres Nocioni found some playing time. Lou Williams hit a ridiculous 40-foot prayer late in the third quarter which had me rolling on the floor laughing. He may be a ball-hog but sometimes Lou has the sweetest touch.
As much as this Philly offense has improved so far in 2011, Collins should continue to preach his defensive ways. The 76ers have won eight straight and are now 18-5 when they allow less than 95 points.