Buzzworthy Sixers have team-first concept

Buzzworthy Sixers have team-first concept
January 11, 2012, 7:23 pm
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NEW YORK -- Around the NBA, everyone is talking about the 76ers. In fact, not only are the Sixers the hottest team in the league, ripping off six straight victories with five of them 20-plus point blowouts, but also there is a palpable buzz around the team.

It almost makes one harken back to the days when Dr. J, Moses Malone and Allen Iverson ran the floor for the Sixers.

Almost...

With that buzz comes the NBA glitterati, which showed up in force before Wednesday night's showdown against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. What these folks wanted to know most of all was how a team with no bona fide superstar, go-to scorer or dominating big man can breeze through the first nine games of the season even though the first five games were played on the road.

The answer, actually, is quite simple. Could it be that the Sixers are turning the conventional NBA wisdom on its head? Is togetherness and teamwork really the answer?

So far that appears to be the case. As 13-year veteran Elton Brand said after his 21-points, 10-rebounds performance over the Kings at the Center Tuesday night, the Sixers have no egos. A man of strict routines, Brand says his goal is to win ball games, go home to sleep and then do it all over again the next day. What might illustrate the no-egos point the best is that through the first nine games, the Sixers have had five different top scorers, including two that have come off the bench.

"Personally I knew it was coming, we work too hard as a team. To me it doesn't really matter if it's Andre Iguodala, Thad Young stepping up, Lou Williams, Jrue Holiday, whoever. But it's 'all the time' us," Brand said. "We're a team and that's how we're winning these games. I knew eventually I would get the opportunity to get more than four or five shots."

Indeed, the night before Brand put 21 and 10 on the Kings, he went 3 for 6 in 18 minutes against the Pacers. Meanwhile, Iguodala scored 20 points on 16 shots against the Pacers, but fired up just three shots (all makes) against the Kings.

Imagine players like Carmelo Anthony or Kobe Bryant operating in a similar framework... it's not possible, is it?

"Touches can vary from game to game," Iguodala said. "If a guy isn't playing good for a couple of games for whatever reason, he gets ridiculed. But anybody can step up on any given night."

Or even step out. With many teams built around a single player who leads the team in scoring night in and night out, the Sixers have been lucky enough to miss out on a few sharp scorers. On Tuesday night, the Kings played without leading scorer Marcus Thornton and didn't have big man Chuck Hayes, either. The night before, the Pacers went without top scorer Danny Granger who fought a bout of food poisoning.

It gets deeper, too. For last Friday's home opener, the Pistons played without two starters, Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey. In New Orleans a couple of days earlier, Hornets starting forward Trevor Ariza was sidelined with a groin injury. The Sixers also beat Golden State when top scorer Monta Ellis was at his grandmother's funeral.

It's a curious thing, but not something coach Doug Collins is going to apologize for.

"It's the attrition that's going to go with this season," Collins said.

"It's interesting that if you're losing, you're losing. But if you're winning, it's, who are you beating? I don't get into all that nonsense. These are all professional teams."

But maybe the other organizations in the league are not as much as a "team" as the Sixers. Take away Brand, Iguodala and reserve Tony Battie and the Sixers are relatively young with the overwhelming majority of the roster 24-years old and younger. Better yet, it's a young and coachable group with only one newcomer to the regular rotation in rookie Nikola Vucevic. Interestingly, Collins and Vucevic were surprised and impressed with how quickly the rookie was accepted by his teammates.

Brand says the summer workouts during the lockout helped unify the team as did the five-game road trip to open the season.

"We really bonded on that trip," Brand said. "Guys care. We know each other. We've got a great mix of young players, and guys are not playing to get stats. It's a good mesh. We talked about that when we got back from the trip. Guys believe that we can be good enough to win the division."

Of course, it helps that the Sixers have been hitting the defensive boards and are routinely out-rebounding opponents. It also helps that the team has been able to overcome dreadful starts to games relatively unscathed. In the first seven minutes of Tuesday night's win over the Kings, the Sixers committed four turnovers. But over the final 41 minutes they had just six more turnovers.

Still, from a dismal season under Eddie Jordan to 41 wins last year to a division title this year without adding a superstar? Maybe this Sixers' team concept will become the new trend around the league.

"We've got to keep doing our business," Collins said. "I don't think they are getting giddy, but I told them the other day that if you don't think we can win the Atlantic Division this year, you are making a mistake. I firmly believe that. I want us to have high standards."

E-mail John R. Finger at jfinger@comcastsportsnet.com

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