After allowing their two weekend opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from the field in a pair of losses, the 76ers couldn't have felt too good tonight after the Sacramento Kings converted on 66.7 percent of their field-goal attempts in the first quarter.
But something happened after the opening period that was almost magical. Maybe it was the Sixers' defense. Maybe it was the weariness felt by the Kings, playing their fourth game in five nights in their fourth different city.
Whatever the case, the Sixers clamped down defensively, limited the Kings to 28.9 percent shooting in the second half, and walked away with an 89-82 victory before a crowd of 11,034 at the Wachovia Center.
This was, we think, the same team that got torched for 51.3 percent shooting by Charlotte and 52.6 percent shooting by Milwaukee in losing twice by a combined 34 points. But the Kings opened the third quarter going 5 of 21 from the field and made just 3 of their first 16 shots in the fourth period.
"When you have a game like you do in the second half against Milwaukee," said Andre Iguodala, who led the Sixers with 22 points, "and then you play so well on defense this game, it makes you wonder about having that consistency and focus every single night. You have to have that energy on defense every game."
Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said his team tightened up defensively and played better fundamentally.
"We've got to do a better job of guarding guys and keeping guys in front of us," Cheeks said. "I think when you see our defense get broken down, we do not guard the ball as well as we should or we could. That's something we have to work on: guarding the ball a lot better."
The defense picked up 12 steals, its first game in double figures since Jan. 19. Andre Miller and Joe Smith led the way with three apiece.
The Sixers also rebounded the ball better tonight, holding a 55-40 advantage, only their second double-digit margin of the season off the boards. Samuel Dalembert grabbed 17 rebounds, including seven offensive boards, to go with 20 points.
"The offensive rebounding was probably more impressive because we don't run a lot of plays for him," Cheeks said. "So when he offensive-rebounds, he has an opportunity to score."
Dalembert was more interested in talking about the defense.
"There was some penetration here and there, but I was happy with how well the guys kept their guys in front of them," he said. "That also kept me out of foul trouble."
The Sixers trailed from late in the first quarter until the third, when they went on a 10-0 run that featured six points by Miller and took a 62-57 lead with two minutes remaining. The Kings used two baskets by Ron Artest to move into a 71-71 tie with 8 minutes, 17 seconds to play, but their poor shooting did them in.
The Sixers gradually pulled away. Iguodala sank two free throws and lobbed an alley-oop pass that Dalembert laid in for an 85-76 advantage with just under three minutes remaining.
Iguodala added eight rebounds and seven assists. Miller accounted for 18 points, six rebounds and six assists. Kevin Martin paced the Kings with 23 points, and Brad Miller added 21 and 10 rebounds.
Mike Bibby, Sacramento's third-leading scorer with a 16.8-point average, managed just seven points and shot 3 for 14 from the floor.
The Sixers shot just 42.9 percent from the field, but their defense carried the day, unlike during the weekend when it took a holiday.
"We've been really thinking about the games we lost," Dalembert said. "We looked at things we can change and how we can play to really help each other. We took the challenge upon ourselves to go out there, and it made a difference."
Notes. Here is the explanation of the Sixers' trade of Alan Henderson to Utah, confirmed by an NBA source:
The Sixers were informed on the eve of last week's NBA trade deadline that the league had miscalculated their payroll and ruled they still were slightly over the luxury-tax figure of $65.42 million. So they dealt Henderson, who is making the veteran's minimum of $1.18 million (the Sixers are responsible for about $700,000), to the Jazz for the right to swap second-round picks, and got under the tax figure.
However, since the option to switch picks belongs to the Sixers, and the Sixers figure to finish with a worse record than the Jazz and thus a better pick, they are expected to decide against it. The Sixers do not have their own pick in the second round, but they own New York's.
The Sixers do owe Utah a second-round selection in 2008, which is protected up to pick No. 35. If the Sixers keep the pick, they have to give it up in 2009, when it is also protected up to pick No. 35.