Not only have the 76ers not lost since the last time we held a Live Chat, they haven't lost since Jan. 3. That's 12 days. In Sixer-land that's a heck of a long time.
We hope it doesn't break the momentum, but we're having a Live Chat today at 3:30 p.m. If you can join, click here: Sixers Chat.
Given the last two games: sizable wins over the Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trailblazers, I'd say there is reason for optimism. I would not say the Sixers have turned a corner (so to speak), but they are absolutely playing their best basketball of the season. Here are the topics, I believe, worth discussing:
1.) Why don't I believe the Sixers have officially turned the corner? Let's be clear, I think the Sixers are on their way. I think they are playing basketball that is not only effective, but fun to watch. I think these five games are a legitimate winning streak because they've defeated three above-.500 teams along the way -- and won two away games. My point is that I still think were about five weeks from being able to expect this type of play from the Sixers. Every game. As we all remember, it was about 32 games of frustrating basketball, before we got to these six games (I'm tossing in the San Antonio loss). I think the Sixers have to get themselves above .500 and continue, for the most part, this improved play through the All-Star break Feb. 12-16. I say "for the most part" because it would be absurd to expect performances like last night (21-point win over a good team) on a nightly basis. No, all we need to see is the framework of that effort -- swarming defense, rhythmic offense, pushing the ball upcourt -- because some nights the shot just isn't going to be there. I asked Andre Miller if he thought this team was "around the corner" (I can't think of a non-cliche to convey this idea) and he said not yet. He said this effort needs to be sustained over a longer stretch. And this leads us to the next point ...
2.) The return of Elton Brand. I think it's really easy to say the Sixers are better without him. Too easy. So easy it feels like a trap. Everywhere the Sixers travel, I'll speak with folks there. They all laugh at the notion that Brand's return won't improve the Sixers. And I agree. While I may not "laugh" at the notion -- because the Sixers sure do look better these last few weeks -- I remain of the belief that Brand's return will make the Sixers better. Why? It's simple: He's a very good player. And while sometimes the attitude and ego of a good player makes his impact more negative than positive, I just don't see Brand allowing that to happen. But, I do believe how Tony DiLeo uses Brand, and how he lets it impact the guys who have played so well in his absence, is crucial. And since DiLeo has shown nothing but deft touch with the rotation and in-game management, this does not keep me up at night. He knows, as well as we do, that Marreese Speights still needs minutes. He knows Reggie's hustle has sparked a number of great defensive possessions. He has a lot to manage, but he's already said Brand's minutes, at first, will be in limited segments to see how his body reacts.
3.) The outside shooting. Eleven for 23? Excuse me? Three weeks ago I would have assumed that number was the free throw total. But during the game, it doesn't seem that amazing because the Sixers are playing in rhythm. We talked about the Sixers inability to find this rhythm during the early schedule. If you know basketball, as most here do, you can feel this rhythm while playing or watching. You can feel the rhythm of an offensive possession when someone takes the correct shot, off the perfect pass, in the right spot. These are the shots the Sixers are taking now: And the percentage of making the correct shot within an offensive possession is much greater than when you force the wrong shot.
4.) A hodge-podge of other topics: Samuel Dalembert played great -- in his way -- last night. He defended the basket. Lou Williams is playing awesome off the bench. And he's playing strong defense, too. Royal Ivey's three-point play last night in the fourth quarter, to bump the game from 9 to 12 points, was huge. I think it was the play of the game ... the play that kept the game from getting to one or two possessions.
The Sixers are still flying under the radar because the Eagles are soaring. But if you have a few minutes, stop by at 3:30.