Before tonight's game, each player had a red "ShowYaLuv" t-shirt on his locker room chair. The shirts aren't on sale to the general public (at least not yet), but the saying represents a growing internal belief about the makeup and quality of this team. (Attached is a not-very-good picture of the t-shirt.) Appropriately, tonight's 105-100 win over the Atlanta Hawks showed the resiliency and effort the Sixers have routinely displayed this season.
Yes, the Hawks appear to be in some turmoil. Before the game, Larry Drew called his team "fragile" and the Hawks were also about 24 hours removed from a blowout loss to the Chicago Bulls. Still, Atlanta is a 40-win team who is one spot ahead of the Sixers in the Eastern Conference standings. That gap closed a little bit tonight with the Sixers' win. The Sixers went from 3-1/2 games behind Atlanta to only 2-1/2 games. You could argue about which playoff matchup better suits the Sixers, the Miami Heat or the Orlando Magic, but the Sixers honestly don't appear concerned with anything but continuing to build toward the playoffs. After tonight's game, we asked coach Doug Collins if he was faced with a balancing act for the rest of the season: getting as many wins as possible vs. nursing injuries and staying healthy.
Collins didn't hesitate in saying, "I want to win every game," and then he repeated it, "I want to win every game." So whether or not Dwight Howard vs. LeBron James in the first round is a talking point elsewhere, the Sixers appear headed toward snagging as many wins as they can and then seeing where that leaves them come April 15.
First, a little bit of news: The Sixers have assigned rookie Craig Brackins to the NBA D-League for the third time this season. This is no surprise because the Sixers announced at the beginning of the season that they had planned three trips to Springfield for Brackins. Also, swingman Andre Iguodala played tonight and it does not seem like the team has any further plans to rest Iguodala down the stretch. That could change in the final week, certainly, but as of today Collins said that Iguodala's knee tendinitis wouldn't heal without significant time off anyway and Iguodala was prepared to play through the pain.
Tonight's game, in many ways, mirrored the team's start against the Utah Jazz last week. It wasn't as drastic as that game, in which the Sixers trailed by as many as 21 points in the first half, but both games started with some pretty bad defense. Tonight, the Sixers gave up 28 points in the first quarter and 31 in the second quarter. Because they were hitting shots at a similar clip as the Hawks, the Sixers did not face a deficit greater than 11 points. From 3 minutes, 18 seconds left in the third quarter -- trailing 77-66 -- to 3:16 left in the fourth quarter -- leading 99-88 -- the Sixers went on a 33-11 run that basically ended the game.
"That was one of the most gratifying wins of the season, for me," Collins said. "I was pleading and prodding and doing everything I could in that first half, we were just a step behind. They just sort of sliced and diced us."
"We were kind of dead in the first half, through the third quarter," said Sixers guard Jodie Meeks, who scored 15 points on 5 for 6 shooting from the three.
"They were making a lot of jump shots, they weren’t really attacking the rim," said guard Lou Williams of the Hawks. "I think that’s what happened to them down the stretch when we took the lead, they were still relying on those jump shots."
A few observations from tonight:
*Meeks was impressive with his 15 points on six shots, but what was more impressive was the cross screen he set for Thaddeus Young early in the fourth quarter. Screen setting has been a huge issue with the Sixers for the past few seasons and it's a skill that, come the half-court battle during the playoffs, will become even more valuable. We haven't often seen the kind of attention to detail that Meeks showed on this play. Afterward, he said he was consciously trying to lay one on Young's defender. We've heard from Collins for much of the season about the little things Meeks does and sometimes we've gotten on him for going on cold streaks, which is not a great attribute for a shooting guard, but this play was indicative of what Collins has been saying. Sixers will need screens like this if they want to have any chance in the playoffs.
*LouWill, Thad, and the bench play. Nothing new here. The combo of Lou and Thad seem to do this two out of three nights. The Sixers bench is so good and now Collins has replaced Marreese Speights with Tony Battie, which will take away some quick-hit scoring, but add some reliability. Let's be straightforward here: Speights does not deserve minutes and he isn't reliable enough to crack the playoff rotation. Anyone who points to his scoring bursts is missing the real issue with Speights: he can't focus long enough to do all of the little things during possessions. He's constantly missing a crucial piece (a screen he should have set or perhaps the different defensive style played against the backup guard as opposed to the starting guard). These things affect everyone else on the floor. An occasional made 18-foot jumper does not change this.
*Evan Turner's minutes. For those of you who stayed up late to watch Saturday's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, a game in which Turner started and did not play particularly well, today's 4:18 of playing time was probably not shocking. For those who didn't, it might have been odd seeing Nocioni off the bench before Turner. I don't believe it will become routine to see Nocioni in before Turner, but it might happen a few more times. Collins will eventually go back to Turner through these next 11 games, but the rookie will need to show something more to gain Collins' trust entering the playoff series.
There should be a video embedded of Lou from after tonight's game. You can check that out below. And if you want to follow on Twitter, you can do that here: Deep Sixer.
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