Iguodala making smooth transition with Nuggets

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Iguodala making smooth transition with Nuggets

NEW YORK -- It’s been a season filled with adjustments for the 76ers. Just when they were preparing to adjust to life with a superstar player as the focus of the team, the plan changed.

Instead, the Sixers have spent the 2012-13 season adjusting to life without their superstar, Andrew Bynum.

The season has been one of adjustments for a bunch of the players involved in the four-team trade that brought Bynum to Philadelphia. In Los Angeles, Dwight Howard has seen his every turn treated as part of the daily soap opera that is the Lakers. Even the tiniest minutia of Howard’s relationship with new teammate Kobe Bryant is fodder for public debate. It’s gotten to the point that even Howard’s father is approached by reporters to weigh in on what’s going on with his son and the Lakers.

For Andre Iguodala, the longtime Sixer and 2011-12 All-Star who was the key piece in the acquisition of Bynum, it’s been a season of adjustments, too. However, the difference in Iguodala’s case is that all of the adjustments he’s had to make have been basketball-related.

“That’s been the story of the season so far,” Iguodala said before Wednesday night’s matchup between the Nuggets and Nets at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. “I’ve had to adjust to my new teammates and adjust to the attitude and things like that. It’s all been good though because we’ve been winning ball games and that makes everything easier.”

Because there are just a dozen or so players in the locker room for every game, personnel changes can have a major impact on a team. And given how the last few months have been a whirlwind for Iguodala, the adjustment period may last a bit longer than it would for other players. Plus, Iguodala, who sat out of Wednesday’s game with a stiff neck, has always been different from the typical pro athlete. Rarely is a question given a simple yes or no answer because to Iguodala, things are much more complicated than yes or no. There are shades of grey in even the simplest answer.

That’s the same way for when he plays, too.

“He’s a very cerebral player,” Nuggets head coach George Karl said. “He probably thinks too much and he probably worries too much.”

It’s never easy …
Could Iguodala ever lighten up? Is it too much to ask? Once, shortly after the Heat eliminated the Sixers during the 2010-11 playoffs, Iguodala was asked, point blank, if he wanted to play for the Sixers the following season. Instead of saying, “yes” or “no,” Iguodala gave a rather McNabbian response:

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play ball for one team. This has been a great ride so far. I’m really looking forward to the summer, letting my body recuperate. I want to get back to 100 percent. I’m looking forward to next year being my best year in the league.

“I always wanted to be in one place, be comfortable in one spot. I still feel the same way, being able to put a stamp on not only my career, but the Philadelphia 76ers record book. I want to keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever. Just for my name to be brought up as having some of the most steals in team history is something I always thought about. I want to continue to climb the charts and take this team to the next level.”

Of course, Iguodala did return to the Sixers in 2011-12 and that’s when the whirlwind began. Last year at this stage of the season he was headed to Orlando for his first All-Star Game. This year, even though some of his statistics are more impressive, Iguodala is going to the All-Star Game to participate in the NBPA annual meeting in his role as the Nuggets’ player representative.

Then again, maybe it’s fitting that such a “cerebral player” and worrywart would be traded hours before the biggest basketball game of his life at the tail end of his most successful season.

First came the All-Star Game and then, a couple of months later, Iguodala led the No. 8-seeded Sixers to an upset victory over the top-seeded Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. It was Iguodala’s two foul shots with 2.2 seconds left in Game 6 that gave the series its dramatic crescendo.

That led to a nearly as dramatic seven-game series in the Eastern semifinals in which Iguodala’s defense nearly helped the Sixers to another upset. The Sixers’ unlikely playoff run was followed by a berth on the U.S. Olympic team and a gold medal in the games in London.

But in the middle of playing for the gold for the red, white and blue, during warmups before the semifinals game, Iguodala was told that he had been traded.

Fitting in with Denver
Since then, Iguodala has tried to relax and to fit in. Playing for the Denver Nuggets, apparently, is a bit different than playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. In Denver, Iguodala said, he’s been trying to teach himself to be calm and to relax and even to let his guard down sometimes.

After eight years of playing in Philadelphia, relaxing just might be Iguodala’s biggest adjustment.

“It’s different. You catch yourself being too guarded at times, especially when dealing with the media when you’re always on guard,” Iguodala said. “But it’s a lot friendlier [in Denver] than it was in Philly. Sometimes I have to catch myself and say, ‘Just have fun with it.’ I don’t have to be so defensive all the time. Then with the fans, it’s different. In Philly they are a lot more passionate and up in your face and in Denver they’re calm and collected and they’re enjoying themselves.”

Iguodala is enjoying the basketball, too. At 33-21, the Nuggets have won nine out of their last 12 and 15 out of their last 20 games after Wednesday night’s first-half finale at the Barclays Center against the Nets. With Karl’s uptempo offense, the Nuggets have scored at least 97 points in 21 straight games and have the third-best scoring offense in the NBA, averaging 105 points per game.

Part of that has to do with the Nuggets’ running style and their ability to hit the offensive glass. Headed into Wednesday’s game, the Nuggets led the NBA with an average of nearly 14 offensive rebounds per game.

But mostly the Nuggets’ success has to do with what Iguodala brings to the team. Though they surrender 101-plus points per game, the Nuggets’ offense is fueled by their defense. They lead the NBA in rebounding, which is the perfect way to start a fast break, and also are second in steals, third in blocks and second in creating turnovers.

Karl says his team wouldn’t be nearly as good without Iguodala.

“We brought him in to bolster up our defense and I think he’s turned us into a good defensive team -- not a great defensive team,” Karl said. “It’s a luxury to have a guy like [Iguodala] that you can put on any player from a two, a three or a four, and feel pretty confident that you don’t have to help all the time.”

Then again, the Nuggets’ style of play has been another adjustment for Iguodala to get used to, too. In Philadelphia, the offense usually flowed through Iguodala. The Sixers ran when they could, otherwise they slowed things down and tried to win the battle in the halfcourt.

But in Denver the plan is to attack and attack and when the Nuggets finish with that, they want to attack some more.

“It’s different than the East where it was more … controlled,” Iguodala said, choosing his words carefully. “It’s not in a bad way. That style was good for me, so now I have to adjust to it. It’s just two different styles and I’m getting used to it -- I’m picking it up.”

Karl is pretty sure that Iguodala will be instrumental for the Nuggets as the season progresses. By the time the playoffs roll around, that adjustment period should be complete.

“I’m confident and satisfied with what we’ve gotten out of him and I’m excited about what he’ll give us in the second half,” Karl said.

In the meantime, Iguodala is doing his best to fit in. The offense doesn’t flow through him in Karl’s no-stars credo. In fact, Karl’s style might just be the perfect fit for Iguodala. Still, it just might take some time to get used to.

“Everything is a tough adjustment in its own little way,” Iguodala said. “With my teammates it’s been good because I have a good relationship with everyone here. The situation was a little better in Philly because I had been there for seven or eight years and I could control the environment. Guys knew certain things and I didn’t have to tell them things twice. That’s the only real thing that’s different here, so you have to build that. It’s not going to happen over night.”

No, nothing ever comes easy for Iguodala. It just looks that way. But in a season of big adjustments for a lot of teams, it’s Iguodala that might be headed in the best direction.

Dario Saric halts slump with 'best game as a 76er'

Dario Saric halts slump with 'best game as a 76er'

Dario Saric came into the NBA knowing his rookie season would be one of ups and downs. He would have successes based on his talent and struggle because of the newness of the league and matchups.

Saturday’s performance against the Celtics was one of those highlight nights. Saric scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, both tying career-highs, for his third double-double. He was efficient in his performance, playing 27 minutes off the bench in the Sixers' 107-106 loss.

“I thought that was his best game as a 76er,” Brett Brown said.

Saric had struggled the night before against the Magic. He barely made a dent in 16 minutes, posting just two points (1 for 5 from the field) without a single rebound. The poor showing was on his mind Saturday, as he got ready for the second game of the back-to-back. He went in early to get up extra shots, met with coaches, studied film and thought about the matchup throughout the day.

“I prepared a little bit more for this game,” Saric said. “After I have some bad rhythm of five or six, maybe, games. Now I concentrate more. I try to give my best, try to play my best, try to think before everything happens.”

Saric showed his aggressiveness in crunch time in the fourth quarter, when he scored seven points and five rebounds in eight minutes. He nailed a three to cut the Celtics' lead to 92-91 with 4:28 to play. Then with 1:09 remaining, Saric’s free throws cut the Celtics' lead to two points. On the other end of the court, he snagged the rebound off an Isaiah Thomas miss and scored a game-tying layup from Jahlil Okafor.  

“He played great,” Okafor said. “He’s working hard every day, getting used to the NBA process. It was good to see hard work paying off for him.”

Saric has been adjusting to new roles throughout the season. He was thrown into the starting power forward spot when Ben Simmons was injured, and then moved to the bench when the team acquired Ersan Ilyasova. On Saturday, Brown also played Saric at small forward in Robert Covington’s (knee) absence, a shift the Sixers may try again.

“He’s a good teammate,” Brown said. “He’s biding his time. He understands he’s a rookie. Incrementally, he’ll be given these opportunities. Tonight he did and he responded and you’re seeing continued growth.”

Saric still is early in his NBA career, and Saturday's showing was a game he can look back on and study for the rest of the season. 

“I feel like tonight … you’d walk away and say, ‘Shoot, that’s a hell of a player for playing 20 games in the NBA and he did what he just did against a hell of a team,’” Brown said. “I’m proud of what we saw all over the place from Dario.”

Sixers' '66-'67 team reflects on success of 'best team ever'

Sixers' '66-'67 team reflects on success of 'best team ever'

As part of their “Salute Saturday” series, the Sixers honored the 1966-67 championship team at halftime of their 107-106 loss the Celtics on Saturday.

Fifty years after winning the title, the success of the squad (which went 68-13 in the regular season) still resonates with those representing the Sixers today. After all, they are the group Wilt Chamberlain described as “the best team ever.” 

“It’s just part of the history of this city and the organization,” said Brett Brown, who has established a relationship with Billy Cunningham through practice visits and emails. “There was a toughness with that team that he personified and the city sort of reflects. It’s stuff you hear me talk about all the time how you want our team to reflect the spirit of the city. That team did it.”

Prior to their tribute ceremony, members of the team reflected on their run in which they beat the San Francisco Warriors for the title. 

On Wilt Chamberlain
“Wilt was such a dominant figure, not only as a basketball player, but he’s almost bigger than the game,” Matt Goukas said. “He played so well, he was such a good team player – he started really passing the ball right around that time --and that enabled great scorers like Hal (Greer) and Billy and Chet Walker to do their thing, and Wilt was very happy to give them that leeway.”.

On fond memories
“It was a team that we played well together and we lived as a family and that’s what made it so good for us," Greer said. "A lot of fun, a lot of fun. We missed the next year, but 68-13 is not bad at all.”

“It’s hard to forget a situation like that where we had such a terrific team and the season went so quickly, we won so many games and then of course winning a championship,” Goukas said. “As a first year player I said, ‘This is the way it’s supposed to be, I guess.’ But of course I never won another championship as a player, but we had such a terrific group of guys and true professionals that for me as a rookie, Billy Melchionni as a rookie, we really benefited from guys like Hal Greer, Wally Jones and Harry Costello, they really showed us the way.”

On team chemistry
“It was very difficult times when you look at the sixties from a social aspect,” Cunningham said. “Martin Luther King was killed the following year we won the championship. Race relationships weren’t the best. And this time, which was just about half black-half white, I’m not even sure, it was never an issue. That’s the beauty I think of being on a team you know getting to know people, you judge them as an individual and nothing more than that.”

“I think it was our coach Alex Hannum, for one (that kept the team together),” Greer said. “And of course the big guy. He held us together most of the time, he could rebound, play defense, do it all.”