In a normal season, the 76ers would be just about ready to break training camp at this point. Just 30 days since coming together at St. Joes University to kickoff the prseason, a few players are still trying to get their legs underneath them before the grind really gets intense.
The Sixers, in the second game of a back-to-back, won their fourth game of the season by 20-plus points (see Roob's By the Numbers). They did it by holding the Raptors to an arena record for fewest points allowed and, at 5-2 with a pair of back-to-backs down and a back-to-back-to-back looming, the Sixers already lead the Atlantic Division by 1 games over the Boston Celtics.
Meanwhile, the Sixers are off to the franchises best start since the 2000-01 season, when Larry Browns team opened the year 10-0 on the way to the NBA Finals.
To be sure, its only going to get tougher for the Sixers. Still, the season has begun so ridiculously well that its difficult to not be excited about the way the Sixers are playing. In the win over the Raptors, the Sixers led by three points, 41-38, with 9:50 remaining in the third quarter when coach Doug Collins called time out. After that timeout, the Sixers finished the quarter on a 32-11 run, surging by the Raptors as if they were stuck in the mud.
Must have been a pretty good timeout, huh coach?
I think I busted a blood vessel, but I came away unscathed, Collins said. Our guys really responded. Our defense was fabulous. The one time we were down 12 rebounding and ended up plus-three.
Certainly, it all starts with defense with the Sixers. On Saturday night, after Collins called that timeout, Andre Iguodala, who led the team with 14 points and 10 rebounds, hit a three-pointer to push the lead to 10. Next time down the floor, Thaddeus Young blocked a shot at the rim from Amir Johnson that led to a layup for Jodie Meeks.
Im not a shot blocker, Im a charge taker, Young grinned. But I do think that was a game changer. We put our foot down and let them know that youre not going to bring anything in here without a fight.
A jumper from Jrue Holiday pushed the lead to 14 points barely two minutes after Collins laid into the team. Just like that, it was over.
Its early, but its encouraging to have the extra gear to make runs and if they counter, to make another run, said center Spencer Hawes, who played just 16 minutes after having a bit of a back spasm during the third quarter.
The Sixers lead got so large that Collins had a chance to empty the bench. Andres Nocioni got nearly eight minutes of action and Temple product Lavoy Allen picked up two rebounds in his NBA debut. More importantly, the Sixers were able to steal some extra rest with five games in six days lined up for next week.
Come to think of it, the Sixers just might be built for this type of season.
All things considered, for a season like this our team is kind of built well, Hawes said. Across the board were relatively young and were deep and were so balanced and that helps us out because night after night its going to be hard for guys to go back-to-back-to-back. Its going to be hard to count on one guy every night, but when we have so many options and so much depth it gives us an advantage over some of the other teams.
Still, its early, warns Elton Brand (10 points, 6 rebounds) and the Sixers really havent gotten into the meat of the schedule yet. Toronto was the first team from the Atlantic Division the team had faced and even though both teams were playing back-to-backs, the Raptors had a few forces working against them.
They traveled, we didnt, Brand said. But its good to know that we can play back-to-back and still have energy and win a game. Now we have three in a row and were looking forward to seeing how we can play that out.
It should be interesting.
From here, the Sixers get Sunday off before kicking off their first back-to-back-to-back of the season on Monday. The Indiana Pacers come to the Center to kick things off, and the Sacramento Kings arrive for a game on Tuesday night. After that, the Sixers take Amtrak to Penn Station for their first showdown against the Knicks on Wednesday night.
E-mail John R. Finger at firstname.lastname@example.org