HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — I suppose the easy way of looking at the Philadelphia 76ers these days would be to scan the Eastern Conference standings and act all shocked and surprised that this crew is sitting in the No. 2 spot. (Seriously, check for yourself. They’re holding down the No. 2 spot.)
It feels like there might be something much more substantial going on with the Sixers than just early season good vibrations. Winning nine out of 10 games during any stretch of the season is something to talk about. And the Sixers remain just one of four teams — San Antonio, Chicago and Indiana are the others — yet to lose a home game this season. (Returning your top 11 players from a year ago does wonders in a season that could be defined, to an extent, by the compressed schedule.)
But if we lost our beloved game for five months so teams could build a sound foundation from the ground up (with solid drafting, shrewd free agent moves, wise spending and the flexibility to nurture your own nucleus), it’s not a stretch to say that the Sixers embody the new model for a franchise aiming to move up in the pecking order.
Sure, they have a couple of robust contracts (Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala) on their books, but everything else is more than manageable. They have drafted well (Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams, Evan Turner, Nikola Vucevic) the last few seasons and added the right pieces via trades (Spencer Hawes, Jodie Meeks, Andres Nocioni) and free agency (Tony Battie). And they have cohesion as a group — Williams, a reserve, leads them in scoring (16.2) — that has to be the envy of other franchises dreaming about chasing a playoff spot.
Bucks coach Scott Skiles got a close look at the Sixers Monday and described what they’re doing this season this way:
“What they have done really well this year is they have some guys that are very good with the ball,” Skiles said. “But when a guy is open, he gets the ball. And he gets it on time and on target. They are really playing unselfishly. They have guys that can do things with the ball, but they sacrifice and spread the ball around, and it makes them difficult to defend.”
I’ll admit I was skeptical of the Sixers this time a year ago, when it looked like they might have the makings of a team on the rise. Not even my main man Brent Barry of NBA TV could convince me that Doug Collins would take this team and turn them around the way he has. Brent was way ahead of the curve in identifying this franchise revival.
Things will get more interesting this week with games against the Nuggets (Wednesday), Hawks (Friday) and Heat (Saturday). Perhaps a more accurate evaluation of the Sixers will come when the dust settles.
But the secret already seems to have gotten out. They moved up to the fourth spot in this week’s NBA.com Power Rankings and if they handle some business this week and remain undefeated at home through Saturday morning, then the buzz around this team will only continue to build.
Iguodala is one of 20 finalists for an Olympic team berth, Holiday’s name needs to be included in any conversation about the best young point guards in the league and Williams should be a serious candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. And if they keep this up, Collins should be the frontrunner for Coach of the Year.