In the NBA’s Eastern Conference, the Heat and the Bulls are considered head and shoulders above the rest of the East. But is it time to mention Philadelphia in this equation? The Philadelphia 76ers made their case to be mentioned at the top of the pecking order by dominating the East-leading Chicago Bulls 98-82 in Philly. The Sixers are now within one game of the Eastern Conference lead with their win. Some may wonder what they have done to get there. A few things stand out.
They say offense sells tickets and defense wins games. The Sixers are definitely subscribing to this statement because of the excellent defense they are playing. They are scoring 97.5 points per game this year, but on defense, they are Top 5 in steals and rebounds per game. The Bulls and the Heat, both top teams in the East, cannot say this at all. But even without all the statistics, the Sixers are playing together defensively. An example of their togetherness was on display against the Bulls on Wednesday night when Derrick Rose beat his man to the basket and small forward/power forward Thaddeus Young stepped over and helped contest Rose’s shot. This type of defensive intensity wasn’t evident in the most recent versions of the Sixers.
Another interesting thing that you notice about the Sixers is that their leading scorer is a bench player. Point guard/shooting guard Lou Williams(15.3 ppg) has been instant relief off the bench and he puts pressure on the opposing defenses with his relentless attacks to the basket. And when you play him for the drive, he pulls up and shoots the jumper. And Williams isn’t the only guy that can fill it up off their bench. Thaddeus Young can explode as well. When you have a bench that can go out and not only spell the starters but extend leads, you definitely have a serious advantage.
A huge key for this team is small forward Andre Iguodala. He does a little bit of everything. He scores, dishes, plays air-tight defense and above all, he’s exhibiting leadership skills. I personally didn’t think Iguodala would be a guy that could be a leader. I always knew he was talented, but I questioned some things about him. I guess with age and time came maturity and a sense of urgency because he’s playing better than he has ever played before and is looking more and more like the second coming of Scottie Pippen.
Defense, depth and Iguodala have been huge differences, but the biggest difference in this team has been head coach Doug Collins. Collins is a no-nonsense coach who believes in getting things done the right way. Even when you see his team winning games, he’s still hard at work making sure his guards make the right decision and coaching them up along the way. Young players like point guard Jrue Holiday, small forward/guard Evan Turner and center Spencer Hawes have all blossomed under Collins’ tutelage. If Doctor J is the Fish that saved Pittsburgh, then Collins is the prophet who saved Philly.
With all the positives around this team so far, there’s still a long road to go. It should be interesting how they react to adversity when it hits. But if this team reacts like I think they will, they are going to be just fine and will be a team to reckon with in the post-season.