The 76ers readily admitted after tonight's 82-77 win over the New Jersey Nets that had they played this way against most NBA teams, they would have lost. But the important thing on Tuesday night was that the Sixers weren't playing most NBA teams, they were playing the Nets. And on Tuesday night, a mediocre effort was enough to get the win.
The Sixers are now 9-15 and will play the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
After the game, Doug Collins made it clear that his team is still making too many mistakes down the stretch. Tonight it was three turnovers in the final 3 minutes, 11 seconds, including a very bad pass by Andre Iguodala that led to a Travis Outlaw three pointer with 34.6 seconds remaining that made it a one-possession game.
Unlike other nights, the Sixers quickly fixed the situation, with Iguodala making two free throws that essentially sealed the victory.
The most important thing that came from tonight's game was the play of center Spencer Hawes. Hawes has looked good on other nights, he's played well, grabbed some rebounds, scored some points, and generally been a decent addition at center in the last few weeks. But tonight against Brook Lopez, a guy who gives almost every NBA team trouble, Hawes actually looked like a comparable center. You might even go so far as to say he looked like the better center. It was more than just Hawes' stat line (he was 8 for 11 with two three pointers, 18 points, five rebounds, four assists, and two blocked shots in only 24:15 of playing time), it was also the way he defended in the paint and the way he finished at the rim on a couple of occasions.
Early in the preseason, during the team's first open scrimmage, Hawes had a monster slam over rookie Evan Turner, after which Hawes let out a primal scream. Playing with that kind of emotion and passion seems to work well for Hawes, but we see far too little of it. After that preseason jam, we didn't see any sort of fiery emotion out of the guy. Until tonight. After an and-one bucket by either Jrue Holiday or Jodie Meeks, Hawes got right up in his teammate's face and delivered the kind of emotion that is usually reserved only for players on winning teams. It's not something we see often from the Sixers, because there usually isn't much opportunity for celebration. That seems to be changing.
Sixers' fans would be crazy to think that this is the way Hawes will play every night, on par with a guy like Lopez -- Hawes just hasn't proved he can do it consistently so far in his young NBA career -- but he's done it enough lately to give the Sixers a different dimension on both sides of the ball. In talking to Hawes after the game, you can sense he's feeling confident about the way he's playing. And if Collins has any insight into Hawes' mentality, this confidence could snowball in the form of continued strong play.
The Sixers are staring at a grueling 10-game stretch, and it could knock them down, but you can't help but notice how all of the pieces are falling into place to give them a fighting chance. At first, Collins had no outside shooter who could spread his offense. Now he has Jodie Meeks. At first, Collins had no idea what rotation would work best for his team. Now he has a core seven and seems content in how he's using guys. At first, the center spot was a glaring, glaring hole in the Sixers' lineup. Now, Collins has Hawes.
It may not be like this every night, but Hawes is raising expectations.
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