It's hard to become too excited by a victory over the New York Knicks. The Knicks, despite bringing in former Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, still appear to be one of the weaker teams in the Eastern Conference. Still, let's breakdown last night's 116-87 win.
On Wednesday, when the 76ers (1-1) lost to the Toronto Raptors 95-84, head coach Maurice Cheeks said he was not disappointed with the game, he was disappointed with phases of the game.
Those phases? Shooting and Defense. In that game, the Sixers were abysmal shooting the basketball (5 for 20 from the 3-point line, 29 for 84 from the field). Of course, those numbers were just a reflection of an out-of-rhythm offense, which saw too much dribbling and too little ball movement. Power forward Elton Brand managed 14 points, 13 rebounds against Raptors' All-Star Chris Bosh: A solid night, to be sure, but nothing like what this city expects from its biggest free-agent addition. Heck, the other night, while Brand shot a free throw, one fan at the Wachovia Center called out, "Thanks for showing up tonight, Brand!" (I think this was sarcasm.)
Defensively, the Sixers left the Raptors with more open space than the Canadian countryside (which I've never seen, but assume is vacant and vast). Toronto was 10 for 16 (62.5 percent) from beyond the arc, with sharp-shooter Jason Kapono, who should never be left open, providing the dagger from the left corner in the game's final minutes.
Fast-forward to last night. The previously dysfunctional Knicks came to town. Those Knicks that only months ago were more soap opera than professional ball club. The Sixers couldn't possibly fall to 0-2 against this century's worst Atlantic Divison team?
Nope. And how did the Sixers win? Much of the credit can be given to a poor Knicks team, but some of it belongs to the Sixers.
Shooting: 52 for 88 ... Yeah, that's an improvement. In what I believe should become a trend, the Sixers only shot five three pointers, making two of those. The team just doesn't have the shooters to be taking 20 three-pointers in a game. It doesn't matter how bad the Knicks defense was -- and it was pretty bad -- shooting 59.1 percent is darn good. Brand is responsible for most of that efficient effort, going 12 for 19. Brand looked more comfortable being aggressive and scoring. He said after the game that he "tried to fit in" too much against the Raptors and that Cheeks told him to "forget about fitting in."
The facet of Brand's game that should open the floor is his ability to roll away from the pick-and-roll to a spot and hit that mid-range jump shot. Andre Miller is one of the best in the game at creating off of a screen. And it's helpful to have a big guy who isn't forced to roll into the low block (to where Miller might be driving), but who can space the defense.
Defense: Knicks scored 87 points and shot 32-98 (32.7 percent). Again, you can't ignore the opponent. The Knicks are not the Raptors. The Knicks missed many shots the Raptors made (see: Kapono, Jason). But last night the Sixers created a few turnovers and rebounded the ball (61 rebounds to the Knicks 43) well enough to score 22 transition points.
Speaking of transition points ... swingman Andre Iguodala needs to score in transition. Right now he is not getting much from the half-court sets. His outside shot, despite having that rainbow arc (is it too much arc? I think so ... ) might never be one of the best in the league. He is a slasher. Last night, Iguodala scored seven points on 3 of 7 shooting with seven rebounds in 37 minutes: Hardly the numbers of a player who this summer signed an $80 million contract.
Time to fly to Atlanta.
Be back later ...