It took two months, but finally, the Sixers are on something of a roll.
Winners of two straight games for the first time since Nov. 30, the Sixers also have won three out of their last four games and have a couple of winnable games set for this week. Monday night the lowly Orlando Magic come to town riding a nine-game losing streak with losses in 20 of their last 22.
After a game against Central Division contender Indiana on Wednesday, the Sixers host Charlotte on Saturday, a team tied with Washington for last in the Eastern Conference with losses in 11 of its last 13 games.
Just three games behind the injury-plagued and aged Celtics for the No. 8 seed in the East, the Sixers are getting a break in the schedule just in time. And by the time the All-Star break approaches in two weeks, Andrew Bynum should be nearing a return.
Here are a few storylines that should play out in the next couple of weeks:
Since adding Spencer Hawes and Nick Young to the starting lineup, the Sixers are 3-1 in the opening quarter of games. Not so surprisingly, the Sixers are also 3-1 in those games including two wins in which they won the first frame.
Those first quarters are the key, says coach Doug Collins, who made the move with Hawes and Young as a means to inject some much-needed offense into the first unit with Jason Richardson fighting a knee injury and Lavoy Allen seemingly better suited for a reserve role.
Besides, said Collins, the Sixers were 9-1 in games in which they won the first quarter in the games leading up to the lineup change. That was nine first-quarter wins in the first 42 games of the season.
“I’ve just gone to a different starting lineup,” Collins said last week. “The guys I’m bringing off the bench, I’m going to a little bit more of a defensive mindset.”
The All-Star center will give another weekly update before Monday’s game. It also will be the first update since Bynum received a pair of Synvisc injections in both knees, aimed to lubricate his joints, in New York City on Thursday.
Typically, basketball players get the Synvisc injections before an increase in activity, which bodes well for Bynum’s rehab from bilateral bone bruises in both knees. However, Bynum also received the injections in September as he was gearing up for training camp only to suffer a setback.
However, the last handful of updates from Bynum have been positive and it appears from watching workouts and listening to the big man talk that he is getting closer to getting back on the court.
Of course the first big test will be when Bynum returns to full-contact practice sessions. After that, it’s just about game time.
“I want it to go smoothly. I don’t want any setbacks,” Bynum said in his last update. “If I go out there, I’ll do something stupid.”
Last week, NBAPA executive director Billy Hunter was placed on indefinite leave as the NBA players get ready to determine whether the union head should be removed from office.
A vote on whether to oust Hunter will occur on Feb. 16 in Houston, where the union holds its annual meeting, and from the sound of things around the Sixers’ locker room, players are talking amongst themselves about the situation.
Hunter, 70, the executive director of the union since 1996, is under fire for shady business practices and nepotism, which were chronicled in a recent audit of the union. Hunter is also the focus of an investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan as well as one by the federal Labor Department.
According to reports, Hunter employed or worked with many close friends and family members. He hired his daughter and nephew, permitted a daughter-in-law to remain on staff, and spent more than $80,000 of union funds to evaluate an investment in a banking firm that employed his son.
He also awarded many employees with luxury items, such as watches, as gifts from the union’s funds. This is from a union head that was in charge during two different lockouts.
Sixers player representative Damien Wilkins said he could not talk about the situation regarding Hunter until after the vote. However, it seems as if the director’s days of leading the union are numbered.
“It’s time,” one player said. “A change is long overdue.”