Thoughts from New Orleans

The 76ers can move above .500 for the first time since November with a win in New Orleans tonight. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

It’s been a few days since the last post (my bad) and much has happened in that time. First, Elton Brand returned to the court. Second, the 76ers beat the New York Knicks 116-110 on Saturday night. Third, I flew to New Orleans.
It’s still too early to say exactly how Brand is going to impact this team, although obviously all communication coming from the Sixers, especially Brand himself, is that things will be different than they were earlier this season.
The most interesting piece of information – in my opinion – from Saturday’s post-game locker room came from Brand. It’s also a prime example of how things might change.
Brand was sitting in front of his locker. He had just played 13 minutes and scored six points and, by all accounts, added to, not subtracted from, the Sixers’ eighth win in nine games. Still, of course, the questions were about what we’re likely to see as Brand’s return progresses from 13 minutes, to 22 minutes, to 29 minutes … then eventually a return to the starting lineup.
Here’s the story Brand told (and I’m paraphrasing):
He said in practice last week, leading up to the Knicks game on Saturday, that they had been full-court scrimmaging. Brand, as has been noted, is currently playing with the second team, the “white team.” On one play, Brand was posting up around the mid-post, elbow area (this is to say not directly on the low block). Lou Williams gave Brand the ball and cleared some space in the other direction – a clear signal that it was time for Brand to make something happen on his own. Brand said he caught the ball and then saw Lou and the rest of the guys standing around waiting for him to do something. Brand said he shook his head and waved for Lou to make a cut off him to keep the flow moving, to get the ball from its stationary position.
This is a good example of what needs to happen for a couple of reasons. 1.) We’d be crazy to think the Sixers would never try to dump the ball to Brand and watch him go to work. Basketball is tiring. On some possessions, you can’t help but want, and hope, that the big guy can get you a basket or two. 2.) It’s easy for a post player to catch down low and wait for people to clear out, then make a move. That’s what low-block players do, they score on the block, they draw defenders, etc.
It’s crucial that Brand is making it his focus to not let the offense fall into the pattern we saw earlier this season. It’s one thing for the guards and wings to keep moving – that will solve most of the problem – because the ball is most often in their hands. But now that Brand is cognizant of the standing and watching, it’s an extra layer of protection.
If the Sixers can get the ball into Brand’s hands, quickly out of his hands, and switch sides of the court it makes life twice as difficult for the defense. They can always, after the ball has moved from side-to-side, go with a pick-and-roll or a dump-down and a quick slash off the post.
Sixers are in New Orleans … and so am I. I think I’ll take a drive around town in a few minutes. If I see any good picture opportunities (we all know how savvy I am with this Blackberry camera), I’ll post them before tonight’s game.
Oh, yes, the game. Sixers vs. New Orleans Hornets. Sixers have a chance to go above .500 for the first time since they were 7-6 in November.
Here are a few of my thoughts going into tonight’s game.
1.) Yes! Samuel Dalembert is playing like Samuel Dalembert should! I don’t think we’ve ever complained on this blog about the numbers he produces. I almost never look at Sammy’s numbers. You can just tell from watching the game if he is making an impact or not (this is not the case with Andre Iguodala, who often impacts the game much more than blatantly meets the eye). And the last few games, Sammy has seemed focused. Also of importance, because having fun leads to winning and vice versa, Sammy seems to be enjoying himself. My only problem with Sammy this season was the stretch of games where he was consistently picking up two fouls early in the game. I was tired of seeing that. Because if you’ve played the game as long as he has (which isn’t as long as most, but still a long time), you know what is going to be called a foul and what isn’t. A competitor, whose minutes were already being slashed, would not have allowed foul trouble to take him out of game after game. But it seems Sammy’s snapped out of that. Lately, he’s really been a force.
2.) Iguodala … (What’s up Dean!), one of our posters/readers pointed out a recent statistic that Iguodala leads the entire NBA in on-court impact, as judged by team’s +/- with that player on the floor. Where’s Statman? (Hey, also, Statman, did you see your comment in Sunday’s print edition of the Inquirer?) Okay, back to Iguodala. Since this season started, we’ve said on here that Iguodala is the motor of this team. And it’s been met with some criticism, although not too much because we’re just so darn convincing on here. I will admit, Iguodala did have a couple of horrendous long-range shots during that win over the Knicks. But what was true in the beginning is even truer now: When Iguodala goes to the bench, I hold my breath. Slowly, everything slows down for the Sixers. The offense isn’t has effective, the energy on defense sags. It’s actually amazing. Sometimes he sits for an important few minutes in the fourth quarter, and the need to put him back in the game is overwhelming. Tonight’s game is the Sixers first big-time challenge since the game against the San Antonio Spurs … in San Antonio. Iguodala needs to be in the 15 pts/10 rbs/7 asst range (or above) for the Sixers to win this game.
3.) Elton Brand. How could we ignore Brand in this post? We couldn’t. And we won’t. While I don’t think Brand is going to be crucial to tonight’s game, I’m continually interested in how the Sixers play during his minutes. It would be my guess that he plays about 18-20 minutes tonight. And tonight’s game will be much more indicative of how he will be integrated. The New York Knicks style of play is so hectic, it’s almost like a different style of basketball. Tonight will be more traditional, and I’m anxious to see how much the Sixers run with Brand on the floor. I would think Brand would be less effective tonight than he was against New York, solely because of the “beginner’s luck” rule in returning from injuries. I would love to be proven wrong, but it usually seems that a player’s first game back from a lengthy injury is the most productive of the first few. Perhaps he is so amped up to return … but that second game, he comes back to baseline … then, from there, works his way back into game shape and rhythm.
Tonight’s game is an interesting test. We’ve become accustomed (if you can become accustomed in such a short span) to seeing the Sixers compete against whichever team they play. I’d be surprised if tonight were any different.