It's been quite a while since the city has had a buzz like the one felt around here today for the Sixers home opener. In recent years past, the home opener produced maybe a slight hum for the local pro team, as a mediocre season was always expected and usually delivered.
But there's something different about this squad. Perhaps its the plethora of young players who are leading this team. Maybe it's the home-grown coach in Doug Collins, who cut his teeth in pro basketball as a member of the Sixers in the 70's. Maybe it's the vibe that the new ownerships is trying to create with their lower ticket prices and promises of a better in-game experience. Or maybe it's due to the fact that the team started the tough task of five straight games on the road with three wins.
Maybe even a little bit of all of the above.
The team will take the court agaisnt the lowly Detroit Pistons tonight at 7 at the Wells Fargo Center. This morning at the team's shootaround, people in the know were saying that the game is close to a sellout. The atmosphere is sure to be electric, and Collins and his players hope it carries over for quite some time as the team plays 18 of its next 22 games at the Wells Fargo Center.
"Ready to go, it will be nice to see our home fans," said Collins. "It’s always that first home game you wonder how that’s going to be. They’ll be some pomp and circumstance before the game so I told our guys we’ve got to make sure that, with the pregame about six or seven minutes longer, we’ve got to be ready to get out and play some basketball once that gets done. It’s exciting. Our guys know that this place has to be good to us this year, like it was last year, maybe even better. If we’re going to move up we’re going to have to do well at home. The game’s are fast and furious, we’ve got to take care of ourselves, we have to be ready. We talked about high energy level. Our team’s all about high energy and activity. So as a coach I have to monitor that. But we should have good juice tonight. We had a day off after a nice win and our guys should be ready to roll tonight.
Well, almost all guys. Thaddeus Young will be, despite two sprained fingers on his right, non-shooting hand. "It’s good," he said. "I’m a left-handed player and its my right hand, so that’s the best thing about it. I’m just happy that it wasn’t broken or anything like that. It just really got numb when I got on the plane (after New Orleans game Wednesday). I’m fine now, just wearing a little sleeve and hopefully it doesn’t hinder anything from my game."
Rookie center Nikola Vucevic, however, might not be making his home debut tonight. After straining his back in warmiups Wednesday, Vucevic missed the Hornets game. This morning, Collins said he didn't know if Vucevic would play. He called him a game-time decision.
Since many have yet to see much of this team, here are some things to look for tonight:
*The play of Spencer Hawes: He may be unrecognizable to some fans. He is far more aggressive than he was a year ago, particularly on the boards. But offensively he is doing a very nice job of letting the game come to him. For now, he has grasped that him taking two or three dribbles to get a shot doesn't work well. He has been doing a great job of hitting open jumper, making nice passes when needed and keeping the ball alive off the offensive glass.
*Evan Turner's play with the ball in his hands: We certainly didn't see it much last year, but Turner is really, really creative when he has the ball in his hands. And the good thing about it for the Sixers is that it's coming naturally. He is one of the best defensive rebounders on the team, so he can grab a rebound and start his own fastbreak. He hasn't tried to do too much most times and has show a good ability to beat his man off the dribble.
*The growth of Jrue Holiday. Like Hawes and Turner, Holiday's game is so much better when he doesn't try to do too much witht he ball. When he drives the lane and knows what he's going to do from the outset, good results usually happen. When he penetrates and isn't sure what he's going to do, the result is usually a turnover. He had zero giveaways and eight assists in Wednesday's win over the Hornets. And 23 points, too. He is really making that rise to one of the better point guards in the league.
More to come.