You'll all be happy to know that the Sixers remain on top of ESPN hoop guru John Hollinger's Power Rankings
for a second week this week, which is at least two more than we
would've expected from the Liberty Ballers going into '11-'12. But
looking amidst the many stats that Holly uses to calculate said
rankings, there's that one number that continues to make them stick out
from all the other top ten teams: .372, their "Strength of Schedule"
number that averages the record of the opponents the team has played.
For contrast, no other team in the top ten has an SOS lower than .460,
and the Heat (currently ranked at #2) are way up at .506.
All of this is to say that basically, the Sixers' opponents this season
have been creampuffs. Their "signature win" was against a banged-up
Pacers team at home, and the other three best teams they've played—the
Blazers, Jazz and Knicks—were all losses. (Close losses on the road, but
Ls just the same). Many, especially those incredulous at the Sixers' #1
ranking on ESPN (and even Marc Stein has 'em #3 now), say the Sixers
can't be counted among the East elite until they get some big Ws, even
if their chances at such big Ws have been few and far between in their
first 13 games.
Well, all that changes in the next three games. The Sixers play three
legitimate, proven teams now, with a chance to either show the league
that this team means business, or to demonstrate that we're still not
ready for prime time just yet. It starts tonight with a home game
against the 9-5 Nuggets, continues on Friday with a visit from the 10-4
Hawks, and concludes Saturday against the 9-4 Heat in Miami. Going 1-2
in this stretch would be borderline-acceptable, going 2-1 would be a
triumph, going 3-0 would be a downright statement. Going 0-3 would be
very, very tough to swallow.
Unfortunately, as will be the case for much of this strenuous,
strike-shortened season, the Sixers enter this pivotal stretch of the
season a little bit banged up. Coach Collins had even the boys doing
yoga to get their bodies right yesterday, but Spencer Hawes is still
gimpy with a sore back, and Evan Turner (who missed the Sixers' win over
the Bucks on MLK Day) is questionable with a thigh contusion. With
depth the Sixers' primary calling card, it's fairly crucial that these
guys be willing and able to play over the next three games—though at
least with the Sixers, unlike with some other teams, the loss of any one
guy isn't going to be exactly crippling.
As with the Bucks win, pivotal to success against the Nuggets will be
winning the point-guard battle. Jrue Holiday had his best game of the
season on Monday, with 24 points (on 11-17 FG), five dimes and five
steals, while helping keep Bucks PG Brandon Jennings to 7 points on 3-11
shooting. He'll need to perform similarly against Ty Lawson, the
lightning-quick point who the Sixers passed up to draft The Damaja,
currently in the midst of a near-All-Star season with the Nugs,
averaging 16 and 7 with nearly 50% shooting and a PER over 20.
7:00 tip from the WFC. "I'm down to win all of 'em—all the home games,
away games," Jrue boldly proclaimed after the Sixers' latest win. "We
could go undefeated from here on out. I'm cool with that.” Us too,
natch, though we might hit a hitch or two in that gameplan over the next
four days. If not, then we'll really have earned that #1 spot after all.