Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Sixers Pull Me Back In

So my basketball laundry, the Sixers? Coming back to watchable again, and have been for a solid couple of weeks now. On their latest road trip, the usual soul and season-crushing Western long trip at the tail end of the year, they ended the year with what to the untrained eye would appear to be a moral victory and actual defeat, for a franchise that gets almost all of the latter in the long run. Why be encouraged by a loss to a Lakers team that's clearly slumming these days? Well, the following.

> A four-point loss to the Lakers on the road, in a game where they didn't need a huge comeback against the reserves... well, that's kind of impressive, really. A sub-.500 team against the two-time defending NBA champions, going toe to toe? It's not bad, really.

> Oh, and there's this... Andre Iguodala wasn't playing, and since he's kind of the team's best player and one of the better Kobe Stoppers in the Association, it's kind of a big deal. Especially since Bryant had 33, and hit the tiebreaker / dagger shot with 75 seconds to go.

> The single biggest reason to be encouraged by the Sixers this year is point guard Jrue Holiday, who dropped 19 and 11 assists in this one, and looks to be getting better not just every game, but possibly every quarter. He's long, can break men off the dribble, has a real sense for the game and has the total trust of coach Doug Collins. Also, he's still impossibly young. If you really want to have hope for this franchise, it begins and ends with Jrue. And that's really not a bad place to start.

> Speaking of young men with talent, the second overall pick in the draft, Evan Turner, also looked good tonight, earning 35 minutes and a 12/6/4 line with three steals. The shot is still shaky, and it's not a given as to where he plays and what he does every night... but he cares about defense, has a feel for the game, and should be a part of a quality rotation for a very long time. Not exactly what you dream of with the second overall pick, but also not a total bust either, which is what he was looking like a month ago.

> In Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams, they've got something they haven't hd in a very, very long time... offense off the bench. Williams in particular looks good when he doesn't have to play starter minutes in situations where his defensive lapses are deadly. When he can go against a speed-challenged guy like Steve Blake, as in tonight's game, it's particularly pleasant. As for Young, if he had played this way last year, he might still have a starting job. But it's not as if everyone in the Association is slated for starting jobs and stardom.

> As for the club overall, they pressure on defense, don't turn the ball over much on offense (with, sigh, the exception of Brand, which you just have to live with, given his contract and all), and have intelligent rotations and minute allocation, thanks to the competent work of coach Doug Collins. They are light years ahead of last year's collection of sadness, where coach Eddie Jordan more or less took a steamer on anyone that dared to watch.

So why did they lose? Well, that Kobe guy, he's pretty good. Also, it's not as if any game against the Laker bigs is a fun one, and when your starting line up is Andres Nocioni, Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes against Ron Artest, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, with Lamar Odom coming off the bench... well. that's a whole lot of problem. But they compete, and run, and are a lot better than they looked in November. They might even be good enough to... lose in a first-round series against a clearly superior club from the top echelon of the East. But with a better situation than in the past. And given what that past has been, I'll take it. And be OK with watching more. Unlike, say, last year...

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