IN THE Three Dog Night song, one is the loneliest number that you'll ever do and two can be as bad as one.
Not to Doug Collins. Two is one of the best numbers he's seen all of this short season.
For the first time under Collins' tutelage, the Sixers have won consecutive games, last night downing the Portland Trail Blazers at the Wells Fargo Center, 88-79.
On a night when the home team made just 19 of 49 shots in the final three quarters, Andre Iguodala was limited to just four shots and rookie Evan Turner again struggled with just one point, the team found a way to win because of its stubbornness on the defensive end.
Portland was able to make just four of 20 shots from the floor in an 11-point fourth quarter as the Sixers won for the first time this season by single digits.
"Our defense in the fourth quarter, once again, was spectacular," Collins said. "We had big contributions from our big guys. Mo [Speights], Spencer [Hawes], Tony [Battie]. They shot 10 of 17 and had 12 rebounds."
It was an inside effort that was sorely needed, especially after Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge went off for 18 points in the first half.
Collins told the media, and surely his players, before the game that Portland was fanatical on the offensive boards and that guard Wes Matthews was the unknown factor for the visitors. Again, Collins proved prophetic as the Blazers gobbled 15 offensive boards and won the backboard battle by 45-40. Matthews sliced to a game-high 26 points, including 16 in the second half.
But he was the only weapon the Blazers could unload in the final 24 minutes as Iguodala did a great job of clamping down Brandon Roy, limiting the 19-point-a-game guard to just two in the second half.
"Andre Iguodala was spectacular . . . even though he did not score that many points," Collins said. "I am so pleased with the way our guys are playing defense. They were terrific.
"Our defense gave us a chance to stay in there. Elton [Brand] and all of our big guys were battling against LaMarcus Aldridge. That gave us a chance to win the game because we didn't have to double-team the post. You double-team the post and free up the three-point shooters. We did not want to do that."
"It was a key game for us," said Iguodala, who snared seven rebounds. "I know they're going through some injuries and they're not 100 percent and Brandon Roy is going through some injuries, but they've been playing some pretty good basketball."
The Sixers had a blistering first quarter, making 12 of 17 from the field, including scoring on 10 of 11 possessions at one point. But that still just amounted to a 29-29 tie at the end of the first. Then came the stagnant offense that has plagued them so many times this season. Last night, though, the defense was there to bail them out. And their bench, which outscored Portland's by 41-10.
"We know that we're better than our record indicates," Brand said. "We're showing growth. You can see by the way we closed tonight."
Since training camp, Collins has talked about winning on the home court, where the Sixers compiled a horrible 12-29 record last season. Last night evened this year's mark at 4-4.
"It's a good feeling, two in a row and three in a row at home," Brand said. "We're protecting our home court, something we didn't do last year. It's definitely a positive."
Still, there were some troubling signs, most significantly the play of Turner, who didn't make any of his four shots. In his last four games the rookie has scored a total of seven points and shot just 2-for-14 from the floor.
"He's just not playing well right now," Collins said. "When you dig yourself a hole, I've got to go with somebody else. Minutes are precious. Evan is struggling to fit in with Dre [Iguodala] and Jrue [Holiday]. He has not played his best basketball in that threesome. He's just not comfortable off the ball right now so then he becomes a stand-still jump shooter, which is not the best part of his game."
But the streak (if you can call it that) is now at two, that second loneliest number next to one.
Jason Kapono and Darius Songaila were deactivated . . . It's the first time the Sixers have won consecutive games since March of last season.