Good as it was that the Sixers dispatched the Magic Monday night—a lot
more handily than the 74-69 final score would indicate, I might add
(again)—we all knew it wasn't going to be one to silence the critics.
The Magic had lost three of four, were officially in team-wide tailspin,
and probably weren't all that great to begin with. But the good news,
sparing though it may be, about this next stretch of six games that the
Sixers will play, is that nearly every one of them is a chance for that
longed for Statement Win to establish the Sixers as legit contenders in
this league. Defeat the Heat, Lakers, Clippers, Spurs and/or Hawks (the
last in Atlanta) and people will no longer be able to flippantly dismiss
the Ballers as a team that "hasn't beaten anybody yet."
tonight's game against the Bulls might be their best shot at it yet.
There's still excuses to be had on both sides—starting center Spencer
Hawes is still out for the Sixers, while starting wings Rip Hamilton and
Luol Deng are probably out for the Bulls—but even at 85% each, the
Sixers and Bulls are two of the top teams in the East, and it looks like
no one's gonna go this whole strike-condensed season without losing a
key player or two to injury anyway. At the very least, the Bulls should
have All-Everything point guard Derrick Rose at the ready, and all he's
done is score over 30 points in each of his last three games—a win
against the reigning MVP will be impressive regardless of who's flanking
Of course, that means we're gonna need one hell of a performance on both
ends from our boy Jrue Holiday, who had one of his worst offensive
games of the season against Orlando on Monday, finishing with six points
on 3-11 shooting (though he did contribute six assists, with only one
turnover). Having to stay in front of D-Rose for 48 minutes is one of
the least enviable tasks in the league, but Jrue has proven to be a
capable on-ball defender when need be, and we're certainly going to need
it tonight with our front-court reinforcements (helllooooo again Tony
Battie) not so likely to provide stellar help defense.
By the way, interesting stat about The Damaja, courtesy of NBA stat guru
John Schumann—his +181 rating for the month of January (as in the
Sixers scored 181 more points than their opponents when he was on the
court) is the highest in the entire league. It's due in large part to
the fact that the Sixers as a team have been blowing out so many of
their opponents—and indeed, Thaddeus Young is #3 on the list with
+151—but still, interesting indeed for a player whose season many would
describe as being disappointing to be the leader in such an absolute
7:00 tip from the WFC. The Sixers, especially Evan Turner, say No Hard
Feelings with Coach Doug Collins after his blowup at the team for
letting the Magic creep into the game late on Monday. "If we're going to
be a legit team in the playoffs, then we can't let
teams score 18 points in the last three minutes and not get one stop,"
said Collins. "At the end of the day, playing like that [late in the
game] is going to cost us in the future" agreed Elton Brand. All right,
so we're all good then? Good. Let's do this thing.