Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Sixers Are Failing At Tanking, And It's Delightful

RoCo Wing Span
So a few weeks back at the NBA trade deadline, the Sixers more or less gave up on the season. They traded Nerlens Noel to Dallas in a bone head move, shipped Ersan Ilyasova off to Atlanta for no real value, DLed Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and more or less pulled the plug on anything that could be considered Fun. It was all depressing, but for a fan base that has endured multiple years of Process, that wasn't the most saddening thing. What really took the starch out of our sheets was that we thought those days were behind us, and that we got to root for a fun team again. Hopefully for good, or at least, for a while.

The team got ripped by middling Milwaukee and dull Detroit, and short of seeing if Dario Saric could counting stat his way to the Rookie of the Year award over Embiid, there wasn't going to be anything of consequence going forward. But then a funny thing happened. They went on the road and competed, leading games in the fourth in all four games. And sure, the Lakers and Suns are truly awful, the Clips and Warriors were racked by injury and the club blew leads to lose to both anyway, but still. Competition was nice. Competition meant you didn't feel dumb for watching.

Friday night, they absolutely ripped Dallas apart with a 40-point home win, in a game the Mavs had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Today, they beat Boston for the first time in 11 tries, coming back from 13 down in the third to put a dagger in the hearts of the C's hopes to get home court against the Cavs in the lEastern playoffs.

So what the hell is going on?

Saric, honestly. He was the best player on the floor for the home laundry tonight, tough late, truly multi-faceted and with more than a spark of nasty to him, honestly. He doesn't look anything like a rook anymore, shaking off a 1 for 6 start to end 10 for 20. But there was more to it than the Homey.

A few weeks back, I called the last quarter of the season as all about Richaun Holmes, and his 8/7/5/2/4 line tonight, in 29 selfless minutes, was glue-tastic. He didn't hang his head when Al Horford was having a monster game, and in the fourth, he did outstanding work on loose balls and defensive pressure.

Who else? Honestly, it was all over the roster. Robert Covington went 16/8 with his usual defense. TJ McConnell and Sergio Rodriguez combined for 15/6/14 with just 2 turnovers. Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot, this year's low first round pick from France with athleticism, wasn't great, but he had his moments and no longer looks overwhelmed by NBA speed. (His corner three in the fourth was also absolute butter.) Nik Stauskaus took nothing but threes tonight and made three of them, adding 6 boards, 4 assists and a steal and two blocks. They overcame a 14 shot deficit at the line.

And sure, Boston didn't dress Isiah Thomas and only went 6 for 29 from the arc (Avery Bradley hasn't gotten the memo that he can't make that shot), and probably win if the downballot MVP played, but we're not going to shed too many tears for the opponent not being able to dress their best player.

Next up is a roadie in Orlando against a Magic team that might play people from the stands in an effort to better their draft position. The win drops the Sixers to 5th in the reverse standing for draft position, but honestly, we've been playing that game for so long, I just want to see fun hoop. This team gives us that again, oddly, amazingly. All credit to HC Brett Brown, who should honestly get some Coach of the Year votes for the way he's kept this group focused and developing.

And next year, when the try hard bunch slide back to their optimal bench positions, and (please, Lord, please) Embiid and Simmons show up to jump start the talent level?

Well, young teams don't generally win in the NBA. Neither do big teams; it's a guard-driven league with the arc the way it is. But a good, young, big team where the talent level is off the charts, with a defensive hammer, a coach that develops talent better than anyone in the league, with a do-everything small forward and many other assets?

You still need a GM that doesn't blow it, health and some luck. But that's less than a lot of other teams. And for a team that wasn't sure about its coach, and isn't likely to have 100% health in the future, since it's had anything but that in the recent past?

We'll take it. Along with 26 wins and counting for the season...

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