LOS ANGELES -- It was Jan. 1, the new year had turned, there was optimism that in a month, or slightly more, the Sixers’ coveted offseason acquisition, Andrew Bynum, would bolster their frontcourt and help the Sixers get back to their postseason form of the previous spring.
On that night at the Staples Center, the Sixers beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 103-99, powered by the tandem of Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner who were a combined 18 of 33 from the floor for 48 points. The victory allowed the Sixers to stay within striking distance of a .500 record at 15-17. They were holding down the fort until the big fella could take the court.
The fort has since crumbled with a streak of 13 straight road losses and Bynum undergoing arthroscopic surgery on both knees today in New York City, ending any glimmer of hope that he would wear a Sixers uniform this year.
The irony is while speculation about bringing Bynum back next season runs rampant on both sides of the argument, other pieces on this roster have actually proven worthy of offseason re-signing. Damien Wilkins and Dorell Wright are not All-Star, seven-foot centers capable of changing games with their size and power. But, a team is made up of many pieces and they cannot all be standouts with the same skills. Wilkins and Wright have stepped into their roles in this juncture of the season and are big reasons why the Sixers’ style of play looks better and is getting better results.
“Damien definitely brings toughness that we need, and that is kind of contagious especially on the defensive end,” Holiday said. “And the way he attacks in the open court -- when we attack like that I feel it puts us in a better position.
“Dorell with his play and his vision, 6’9” long arms, he definitely helps us out there in the open court and he makes [threes]."
Wright has scored in double figures 24 times this season and half of those have come in the last month. In that same time, he has converted 37 of 88 three-point attempts (42 percent). He is long, he can defend and he can also handle the ball. In this 16-game, one-month stretch, Wright has 27 assists to 16 turnovers.
As for Wilkins, since cracking the regular rotation 10 games ago, starting the last five, he is averaging 11.3 points and shooting 53 percent from the floor.
“Kudos to both of them. We wouldn’t be playing how we are right now if it weren’t for those guys’ production,” Spencer Hawes said. “We have seen them both do it before, and I think it was just a matter of time before they settled in, and we are really glad they did and we know what to expect moving forward.”
Wednesday night, the Sixers will be back at the Staples Center, this time playing the Clippers, who are 46-21, the third-best record in the Western Conference.
With players hitting strides, the offense no longer anemic and three wins in their last four, albeit all at home, the 13-game streak has a chance at being snapped in the building that last gave the Sixers that winning feeling away from home.
“Any time that you can win games and then go on the road, it is definitely huge, because you have that momentum and that winning spirit,” Thad Young said. “So you say we are going on the road and we want to just try to keep winning games so hopefully we can keep it going.”
“We haven’t won on the road in a while so first things first, we have to take care of going out to the Clippers,” Hawes said. “When they were here they did a bit on us so we will remember that when we get back out there, we can’t look at the four games, we just have to take it one at a time.”
Thad Young has elevated his game since returning from his hamstring strain. Holiday has bounced back after his post All-Star slump, and Hawes is playing to his strengths which, unfortunately, is often annoying to fans.
“I think every time you are seven-feet tall, people expect you to be down there in that paint kicking ass and taking names all the time,” Doug Collins explained. “Spence is a very skilled player; he is one of our most competitive players. It’s interesting because you said fans can be tough on Spencer; no one is tougher on Spencer than himself. That is the one area where we really try to work with him. He is still a very young player, but Spencer has a lot of pride and he wants to win.
“Where he has come in three years, I am so proud. I think he gives everything he has every single night to his team, and I think he is a good teammate.”
Who will be teammates next season? That has to be under serious consideration while watching the final 17 games.