Since starting the season 3-13, the Philadelphia 76ers have gone 33-21 in their last 54 games to improve to 36-34, currently putting them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
One of the primary reasons for the turnaround is the team's commitment to defense, a philosophy which they've derived from new head coach Doug Collins.
Last season, the Sixers gave up 101.6 PPG on 47.2 percent shooting. This season, however, Philadelphia is giving up just 97.4 PPG on 45.0 percent shooting, a noticeable improvement.
The team's newfound focus on defense has translated into success, as the Sixers have won their share of big games this season. Thus far, they've defeated Orlando, San Antonio, Boston and Chicago, proving they can compete with the league's elite and giving them hope that they can make noise come playoff time.
In addition to playing better defense this year, the Sixers have been more disciplined. Last season, they averaged 14.5 turnovers per game and forced 14.5 TPG. This season, however, they are turning the ball over just 13.3 times per game, good for fifth in the league.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Sixers are operating in a rather efficient manner. This year, they are averaging 99.1 PPG and are shooting 46.2 percent from the floor (11th in the league), 35.8 percent from the three-point line (13th) and 77.1 percent from the free-throw line (11th), numbers which, combined with a good defense, give them a chance to win on any given night.
The team is also doing a good job of spreading the ball around. In 55 of their 70 games this season, (78.6 percent), the Sixers have recorded 20-plus assists after doing so in only 55.8 percent of their games in 2009-10.
Individually, they do not have any stars on the offensive side of the ball, and despite their top scorer averaging just 14.9 PPG, the 76ers employ a well-balanced scoring attack. The team, which features a rotation that goes eight deep, has five players averaging between 12.2 and 14.9 PPG.
Most importantly, though, a variety of players have stepped up offensively throughout the season and played well when the team needed it.
Elton Brand, who has been mostly a disappointment since signing a five-year, $82 million dollar contract with the team before the 2009-10 season, is playing well this year, leading the team with 14.9 PPG and 8.5 RPG on 51.0 percent shooting from the floor.
Andre Iguodala, who is becoming one of the league's top-flight defenders, has been instrumental to the success of the team. The versatile 6'6'' guard/forward, who serves a number of duties on the team, is averaging 14.3 PPG, 6.5 APG and 6.0 RPG this season.
Iguodala missed the team's last game with tendinitis in his knee, but he could be ready for their next game versus Atlanta on Wednesday. With him in the lineup, Philadelphia is 31-26, but, without him, they've struggled, going just 5-8.
Sixth-year guard Lou Williams has helped to provide some scoring off the bench. Despite shooting just 40.4 percent from the floor, he is averaging 13.8 PPG and 3.3 APG. In his last 10 games, Williams has played well, averaging 15.8 PPG on 42.5 percent shooting.
The starting backcourt of point guard Jrue Holiday and shooting guard Jodie Meeks have performed admirably as well. Holiday, who has started every game this season, is averaging 13.6 PPG and 6.2 APG. Meeks is the team's best long-range shooter, averaging 10.4 PPG on 42.5 percent shooting from the floor, including 41.1 percent from the three-point line and 90.0 percent from the free-throw line.
And Spencer Hawes, a center acquired in an offseason trade from Sacramento, has helped to provide a much-needed presence underneath the basket. Despite playing only 20.2 MPG, Hawes has started 69 games this season and is averaging 6.9 PPG and 5.7 RPG.
As for the coach, the 59-year-old Collins is well-traveled.
Collins, who played with the 76ers for his entire career (1973-81) and helped lead them to the 1977 NBA Finals, was brought in during the offseason to help revive a team that, despite making the playoffs in 2008 and '09, struggled to a 27-55 finish last season.
He is coaching his fourth team in as many decades, having coached Chicago (1986-89), Detroit (1995-98) and Washington (2001-03). During each of his stints, he has overseen dramatic improvement in his teams.
While in Chicago, the Bulls went from 30-52 to being a perennial playoff contender; his first season in Detroit saw the Pistons go from 28-56 to 46-36 and qualify for a spot in the playoffs; and, with the help of Michael Jordan, who had recently come out of retirement, the Wizards went from 19-63 to 37-45 during Collins' first year with Washington
Has Collins turned the 76ers contenders? Of course not. But they are much improved from last season and are all but assured of making the playoffs. So, that's a start.
The Sixers' turnaround is a testament to how important executing the fundamentals is to having success. It is proof that (1) playing good defense, (2) limiting turnovers, (3) being unselfish and (4) running an offense that gets good, quality shots can have such a drastically positive effect on a team.
As the regular season comes to a close, the Sixers have eight of the final 12 games at the Wells Fargo Center, where they've won 21 of their last 28. They're currently a game ahead of the Knicks and they trail Atlanta by four games for the five-seed in the East.
Should they continue to play good defense and if Iguodala remains healthy, there will be chance for them to make their mark come playoff time.