What we have this season is a 76ers team that is good enough to beat teams like the Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls, but bad enough to lose twice at the Washington Wizards and at home against the Memphis Grizzlies. Essentially, this is a team without a leader. And that's the primary reason for the continued end-of-game collapses like Friday night's miserable loss to the Grizzlies. But the day after that game, Sixers coach Doug Collins held practice, something he might not have done had his team beaten Memphis. Something he might not have done if Collins didn't feel it essential to gather his team for some court time and perhaps a mental evaluation.
But what maybe, just maybe, might have happened during that practice day on Saturday was that Andre Iguodala (might have, just maybe) decided he could do more for this team. And by that, he wasn't deciding to shoot more three pointers or maintain possession of the ball longer, but deciding to play with his heart on his sleeve. All out. All the time. Not worrying about how the fans react, or what people might think, or whether or not that last dunk would make ESPN's Top 10 Plays.
Because what we saw tonight from Iguodala, during the team's 110-99 victory over the Denver Nuggets, was something we haven't seen in years -- if ever -- from him. During the 2008-09 season, the team leader was more Andre Miller than Iguodala. Last season, the team didn't have a leader. This season, until now, there were a few players that would occasionally step up, but none that were prepared for the role every night. And who knows what may happen going forward. We've seen Iguodala play well and then, the very next night, struggle in all facets. Who knows which player will show up against the New Jersey Nets. But if it's the player that showed up tonight against the Denver Nuggets, then the Sixers have just elevated themselves from somewhat interesting to very interesting.
*Iguodala always plays hard, but it's often just solid effort and not over-the-top effort. Tonight, he was on the floor twice in one possession. We'd be hard pressed to remember another time he dove on the floor, let alone twice in one possession. And this was in the first half of the game. There was something different about the way he was playing tonight. He seemed engaged and excited to play rather than just being a good trooper and playing hard like he's supposed to. There was some emotion and excitement behind it.
*In the locker room after the game, guys were saying this began the day before, in practice, when Iguodala talked to them about needing to be focused every time they were on the court together, and not just during game time. That means shootarounds and between-game practices. On the board after tonight's win was the practice time for tomorrow at PCOM and then, in black Sharpie, the phrase "the business of basketball," essentially saying that for the length of practice, everyone should be locked into the game. We've never seen this before, nothing even close to it. Considering how often the team loses focus for important stretches, practicing with this kind of focus is no small matter. And, according to some of the guys, Iguodala was the leader in this movement.
So, it may not last. It might all be washed away with another troublesome loss, but on this night, the Sixers had a leader and a franchise player. And it made all of the difference.
Check out the video below of Elton Brand from after tonight's game. And follow on Twitter here: Deep Sixer.
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