The Philadelphia 76ers are currently sporting a 32-30 record, two games over .500 this late in a season for the first time in years. Beginning the season 3-13, Sixers fans were quite sure that this was turning into a repeat of last year’s disgraceful 27-55 record and that the only team to watch this winter would be the Flyers.
Since that start, Doug Collins has really proven himself. Coaching virtually the same team Eddie Jordan looked totally lost with last year, Doug has fulfilled his promise of making the Sixers relevant in Philadelphia once again. Since that depressing 3-13 start, the Sixers hold the fourth best record in the East and the seventh in the NBA at 29-17. The Sixers are ranked eigth in the ESPN Hollinger NBA Rankings, and are undoubtedly one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch. They’ve also won 11 out of their last 15, and are playing unbelievably well at home even with smaller crowds.
Now, here’s the question that this exciting season poses. Can the Sixers actually win in the playoffs, or is it going to start another vicious cycle of first round losses and late first round draft picks? Most critics would immediately say yes, stating that all championship caliber teams have a superstar to carry them through the postseason. That might be true- most of the time.
Take a look back at the 2003-2004 Pistons, for example. That season, the Detroit Pistons knocked off the Lakers for the title. Yes, the Lakers had Kobe and Shaq. No, the Pistons did not have a 20-point scorer that season. Instead, they had Rip Hamilton (17.6 PPG) and Chauncey Billups (16.9 PPG). Maybe you could make the case that the Pistons won 54 games. Fine, that’s fair.
My turn. The Sixers currently have five players scoring double-digit points per game (Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, Louis Williams and Thaddeus Young) as opposed to the Pistons four in 2003 (Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince). Looks pretty even, right? Right. In case that wasn’t enough, it’s time for the team stats. Take a look at this chart.
3PT FG %
OPP 3PT %
OPP Turnovers PG
Well now, a little closer than you thought. The only stat that is significantly better for both teams is that the Pistons allowed 12.4 fewer points per game, but scored 8.5 fewer points per game than the current Sixers. Other than that, the Sixers win in every offensive category and in turnovers per game, and are significantly close to Detroit in all the defensive categories. Also, keep in mind that these stats include when the Sixers were playing horrible during the first 16 games.
One last comparison is in the win column. The Pistons finished with 54 wins, a .659 winning percentage. If the Sixers would have started their season at their current pace, 29-17 (their record since going 3-13), they would have been on track for about 52 wins, a .630 winning percentage.
Ok, the Pistons comparison is over. It’s time for this year—now—in the present. Pretend you are an NBA coach, entering the playoffs with your team. You are playing the Orlando Magic in the first round. What are your three defensive keys to the game? Easy. Foul Dwight Howard, he’s horrible at the line and he might get lucky one game, but that’s it. Play great perimeter defense, it’s the staple of their game. Finally, you rebound, and do it damn well. Do these things and you got a great chance.
Now you’re in the West, and you’re matched up against the Lakers. There isn’t a defensive game plan here, is there? Yes, indeed there is. Your priority is taking away Kobe’s options, especially in the fourth quarter, because if he can’t create for others he’ll lose faith in his teammates and start trying to get fouled in the post. That leads to the next key, don’t let him get into the post because that’s where he will kill you. Last key is not letting Gasol or any of their big men get into good position under in the paint. If you force the Lakers to play from the outside-in, they won’t be able to beat you. Obviously, this is easier said than done.
Here comes the home stretch, stay with me now. You’re still a coach, taking your team into the playoffs where they will host the Philadelphia 76ers. Game plan time. Where do you start? Ok, well don’t let Jrue Holiday create for anyone. Do not let Elton and Hawes get under the basket in good scoring position. And finally, play impeccable perimeter defense.
Fair enough. Lou Williams is going to come off the bench and score on you in the post because your Bigs are watching Elton and Hawes, boxing them out and preventing him from getting good position. Then you’ll be in foul trouble because your team’s fouling Lou to try and stop him from scoring. Pull some defense from the perimeter and the J Team (Jodie Meeks and Jrue Holiday) are going to start dropping three-pointers. Trying to outrebound us? Ok, look up Evan Turner—enough said. Want to defend all that, and you still get this guy named Thaddeus Young, who is virtually impossible to defend unless you can find an oversized, yet incredibly fast power forward or small forward somewhere. You won’t be able to.
Defend EVERYTHING there, and Andre Iguodala is going to dunk on you, it’s just going to happen. Because if there’s one thing Iggy can do correctly, it’s scoring inside. You can’t game plan against the “superstar-less” 76ers. It’s just not plausible.
So yeah, the Sixers don’t have a Lebron James, or a Carmelo Anthony, or a Dwayne Wade. But they have two leading candidates for sixth man of the year, arguably the best coach in the NBA at the moment, a rebounding rookie who can pass, the stat sheet junkie in Iguodala, the second round pick turned three-point beast in Jodie Meeks and the revived former Clipper in Elton Brand. And then there’s Andres Nocioni. Sorry Noch.
Watch out Eastern Conference, the boys are back in town.