Game 16

Game 16

Saturday, January 21, 2012
Game 16: American Airlines Arena
Heat 113, Sixers 92

MIAMI — Every once in a while it’s the little things that amaze me. For instance, a few years ago I was covering the 2009 NLDS in Denver where snow and sub-freezing temperatures made for delays and bad baseball. It was so miserable and cold that on the day Game 3 was snowed out, I spent the afternoon shopping for winter gear.

But when the series ended, we climbed into a flying tube and were transported to Los Angeles where it was nearly unbearably hot.

I spent the off day shopping for summer clothes.

Anyway, I was better prepared for traveling from the snow and sleet in the northeast to the 80-degree climes of Biscayne Bay because my trip to Miami lasted less than 17 hours. Essentially, I flew in to watch a basketball game, wrote about what I saw and flew home.

It was as if I wasn’t even there.

And maybe in a sense the same thing goes for the 76ers. Though the team has been playing shorthanded without starting center Spencer Hawes for some time, nowhere was that exposed more than against the Miami Heat. In the game, the Sixers made just 9 of 20 shots at the rim and were 6 for 15 on shots from 3-to-9 feet, according to HoopData.com.

Meanwhile, the Heat were 18 for 32 on those same shots and simply hammered the Sixers on the boards. When rookie Nik Vucevic went out of the game with what was later revealed to be a hyper-extended knee, the Sixers had no chance.

Why are the Heat so good? Obviously, the quick answer is because they have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—three of the best players on the planet. You know, duh.

 

Game 16aBut what really makes the Heat tick is that they have Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem on the frontcourt and veteran Shane Battier as a defensive stopper on the perimeter. Certainly Anthony’s and Haslem’s contributions can be measured with rebounds, blocked shots and steals. Moreover, there are advanced metrics that can be used to also quantify the contributions of the frontcourt mates.

Much has been made of how advanced statistical analysis has changed baseball, but when it comes to the advanced metrics revolution in sports, basketball comes the closest to truly measuring the value of a player. Actually, when compared to baseball it’s not even close. After games in the NBA, coaches and players pour over the stat sheet, looking for nuggets of information that might offer an insight to performance. With the Sixers, Doug Collins lives by points off turnovers and second-chance points. He also talks about forcing the opposition to take shots “in the yard,” which is to say, no three-pointers and no shots in the paint.

Going old school, during my high school days at McCaskey in Lancaster, Pa., we determined a player had a decent game if he scored more points than shots attempted. I’m not sure that figures into the world of advanced metrics, but in terms of stats having a value, it worked for us.

However, Battier is one of those players that defies categorization and unlike the cultish reactionaries that subscribe to all mathematical data as a way to truly define a baseball player, even the devotees to basketball metrics look at Battier and just shrug. In fact, Battier must be seen to be believed. Against the Sixers, Battier had seven points and three rebounds in 30 minutes—not exactly eye-popping stats.

But Battier was often guarding the Sixers’ swingman Andre Iguodala and held him to just four points. During extended periods during the second half of the game, Iguodala rarely even touched the ball because Battier was hounding him so much.

If there were a number to go with guarding your guy so tightly that he can’t even catch the ball, then Battier would be an All-Star every year.

“I have the ultimate respect for Shane Battier. I think when you put him on your team, you’re automatically better.”

So if there is one reason why the Heat are better this season than last year, it’s because they have Battier, the guy who makes statistics nothing more than silly little designs on a piece of paper.

 

Game 15

Game 15

Friday, January 20, 2012
Game 15: Wells Fargo Center
Sixers 90, Hawks 76

PHILADELPHIA — Let’s say, for instance, you are a really good painter. In fact, you’re such a great painter that galleries fight to hang your work and critics can’t get enough of it.

And yet even though you are a terrific painter, people still get on you because you are a lousy sculptor. You’re going to say that doesn’t make sense, right?

Yeah, well, welcome to Andre Iguodala’s world.

When it comes to playing defense in basketball, there are very few people on the planet as good as Andre Iguodala. Truth is, Iguodala is such a good defender that he very well may earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team set to defend its gold medal in London this summer.

“If you would talk to the best scorers in the league that he’s guarded and say who is one of the toughest guys you have to go against, they would say, Andre Iguodala,” Sixers’ coach Doug Collins said.

“From a coaching standpoint, you understand what he brings. I love what Andre does for us.”

Yet for some reason the biggest criticism of Iguodala is that he is an inconsistent offensive player.

How does that make sense?

There is perception and then there is the reality when it comes to Iguodala and his weird relationship with certain segments of the fandom. The problem with that is the perception is usually the part that gets the most fanfare.

Often, Iguodala is criticized because his salary is “excessive,” yet it barely cracks the top 40 of all NBA players. Meanwhile, it seems as if Iguodala’s perceived unpopularity comes from his personality. He’s neither boisterous nor zany. He’s not one to suffer fools as evidenced in the 2006 Dunk Contest where he pulled off the most impressive and nuanced dunk of the show only to lose to Nate Robertson because he’s short and a better story. Rather than grin-and-bear it, Iguodala hasn’t appeared in another competition figuring there are better ways to have one’s time wasted.

Iguodala is all nuance and professionalism. There are all the things we can see like the fact that heading into last year he had missed just six games in six seasons and played in 252 regular-season games in a row. He’s led the league not only in games by playing in all 82 in five of his seven seasons, but also minutes played and average minutes per game. The dude plays the game and he's rare in that he's a ridiculously talented athlete with instatiable hard-nosed/blue-collar chops, too. He's the best of both worlds and he shows up and goes to work.

He earns his pay.

Last year he played the final two months of the season with tendonitis in his knees. Actually, his condition was similar to the injury that forced Phillies second baseman Chase Utley to miss the first two months of last season, yet Iguodala is rarely talked about as a gritty and scrappy player the way Utley is.

Ah, so maybe there’s a personality issue or something.

Iguodala is a bit of a rarity in sports in that he is a truth teller. He’s immune to cliché (well, as much as possible) and actually answers questions. Want an answer? Iguodala has one. And though it could be off the mark like some of his long-range jumpers, he’s always provocative. For instance, last year Iguodala and the team's top draft choice, Evan Turner, clashed a bit. It wasn't anything serious, just two guys from diffrent perspectives trying to figure each ither out. So, when asked about it, Iguodala presented a thoughtful, honest answer.

“Evan and I have had a pretty interesting year together — good and bad,” Iguodala said. “We’ve always tried to lean on each other. Over the past week we really bonded and I was happy to see him be in position to do something good and follow through with it.

“I’ve been saying all year that he’s a confidence guy and when his confidence is high, he plays really well. When his confidence is down, he has a lot of self doubt and he doesn’t believe in himself,” Iguodala explained. “But we all know he can play ball and we’ve had many arguments throughout the year in regard to talents and he’s going to prove a lot of people wrong.

“We had a chance to sit down and we had dinner together and were together for about three hours. We just reflected on the whole year and things that happened and what could have changed and things that made us better people or held us back a little bit. It was a good chat.”

When do athletes ever talk like that? It’s kind of like when asked a simple question about whether he will return to the Sixers next year and instead chooses to discuss the legacy he hopes to build.

“I always think about that, keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever — Dr. J, Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones, Hal Greer, Wilt Chamberlain. The franchise has been here forever. And just for my name to be brought up for the guy with the most steals in team history is something I've always thought about,” Iguodala said. “I want to continue to climb the charts and take the team to the next level.”

No, Iguodala is not like most of the athletes that have come through town. He seems to be a strange mix of Charles Barkley, Donovan McNabb and Scott Rolen. At different times all three of those guys were the most beloved or loathed athletes in town. Iguodala is just different. He's the guy a lot of folks just can't accept for who he is.

Andre Iguodala eats his vegetables… and you should, too

image from fingerfood.typepad.com MIAMI — There is an interesting interview with Andre Iguodala in a recent edition of the magazine, Food Republic, a slick-looking periodical about epicurean pursuits. It seems to be for those types who use the term, “foodie,” without irony and look to Anthony Bourdain as some sort of righteous hipster.

In other words, it’s a magazine not found at the corner newsstand.

Anyway, it’s not often that pro athletes from Philadelphia talk to slick-looking magazines about their personal chefs or healthy eating habits. Even though it’s not uncommon for non-baseball athletes to be progressive in the training room and training table, it’s decidedly a non-Philadelphian thing. Certainly the folks who shell out ridiculous amounts of cash for the tickets aren’t used to turning over the daily menu to the in-home chef.

Still, the interesting part of the interview wasn’t that Iguodala employs a personal chef or knew early on in his NBA career that his diet and performance were linked. That’s just smart and if anything, “smart” is a pretty good adjective to use when describing Iguodala. No, the interesting part was when Iguodala revealed he liked vegetables when he was a kid.

Really… a kid who liked vegetables?

Well, I was weird as a child. I would eat broccoli raw. I would eat cauliflower raw. I also used to love salads. So, yeah, I’ve always liked vegetables.

Maybe that’s not as weird as it sounds. After all, some kids actually like vegetables. In fact, I remember asking for and wanting to eat spinach specifically because of what it did for Popeye. However, I was quite upset to learn that spinach was not sold at the supermarket in cans and I couldn’t squeeze the middle of one, pop the top and have the spinach fly into my mouth as I wreaked havoc in the neighborhood.

Nope, things are never how they look on TV.

Thing is, kids rarely admit to liking vegetables even when they are all grown up. That is, as Iguodala explained, weird.

Then again, it doesn’t take a long time spent around the Philadelphia 76ers do understand that Iguodala is different. Actually, check out the picture on the right… if there was ever a photo that perfectly revealed the man, there it is. He’s serious, put together perfectly with a Burberry tie knotted just so, with the blue blazer revealing the proper amount of cuff from his shirt. No wrinkles, nothing rumpled and the creases exactly where they should be. Serious, professional, to the point.

That’s Iguodala.

And maybe that’s why after an excellent season of gritty, nuanced basketball, folks still haven’t warmed up to the Sixers’ best player. Even though he’s played for seven seasons with the Sixers after being drafted with the ninth-overall pick in 2004, he’s still an enigma—inscrutable even. Though he comes from Springfield, Ill. just like scruffy and popular ex-Phillies outfielder, Jayson Werth, he’s more akin to fellow Illinoisan, Donovan McNabb. At least it seems that way in how he’s perceived.

Case in point came during the postgame press conference at American Airlines Arena on Wednesday night after the Sixers had been eliminated by the Heat. When asked, point blank, if he wanted to return to the Sixers for the 2011-12 season, Iguodala gave a rather McNabbian response:

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Only as good as your last shot

Alcindor There is nothing as sad or depraved than a man in the depths of a shooting slump. Sometimes it feels like locking your keys in the car or repeatedly punching yourself in the face… by accident. Eventually, it becomes so frustrating that each missed shot or rebound that turns to a change of possession is like a free fall where a ripcord is just a millimeter out of reach.

Yes, a shooting slump is like falling from the sky. Shots that might have splashed through the net with that sonorous, swish! are replaced with soft deflections off the rim that barely sail far enough for a long rebound. After the ball nicks the iron, that’s it. No more chances.

But that’s not where it gets frustrating. Through no discernible reason, sometimes the ball doesn’t go where it’s supposed to. Even though the form is the same, the touch and rotation is no different than any other shot, but for some stupid reason something is off.

Could it be the humidity? Maybe someone opened a door to get into the gym and a breeze knocked the ball off its target?

Whatever the reason, a shooting slump sucks. It sucks to watch and it sucks to go through. Don’t believe me, get ready for a couple of stories. One comes from a high-school hot shot who once believed he was the best shooter walking the earth, and the other is about a budding NBA star that once filled it up for 54 to set the single-game scoring record for Kentucky.

First things first, though. A shooter in basketball is a special breed. They aren’t like the big men that coaches and the media go crazy for because of the gift of height and build. Everyone loves the big man, because they can be taught to do things no one else can do. See, it’s not like a pitching coach like Rich Dubee for the Phillies who’s main job, essentially, is to shut up, stay out of the way and make sure his ace pitchers know what time the bus leaves for the ballpark. For instance, do you think Kareem was given that sky hook when he was Lew Alcindor or was he taught it because he was so much bigger than the other kids at school?

Think anyone else at young Lew’s school was taught a sky hook?

Anyway, a shooter has to work constantly. A shot is built from trial and error and then honed trough maddening, psychotic repetition. And then, the shooter has to figure out a way to get off the shots. That’s because even on the schoolyard, the shooter is identified and singled out. Shooters, after all, are the home run hitters. They are the ninjas of the game, typically blending in until sides are chosen and the first attempts at the hoop are up. See, a shooter is like a black belt in karate who gets into a back alley brawl in that he must identify himself. It’s only fair for some poor sap to know what he’s up against and if it’s a black belt standing across from him, last-minute negotiation might be in order.

A shooter can carve your eyes out if he isn’t identified early, so the sporting thing is to get the word out.

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Iguodala’s pep talk was the turning point

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Always the optimist, Doug Collins says he never got down when the Sixers struggled to a 3-13 start the first month of the season. Still, even the half-full view often left the coach with some doubts.

Whatever doubts Collins might have had disappeared for good on Friday night when his club clinched a playoff spot with a 25-point win over the New Jersey Nets at the Center. From 3-13 to 40-36 in a little more than four months takes a lot of believe insomething.

Belief and stubbornness, Collins said.

“I wasn’t sure,” Collins said after the 115-90 victory, “but I hadn’t given up hope. We weren’t going to change what we were doing because we believed in what we were doing. I believe that if you do things that are worth doing that good things will happen. We weren’t going to change.”

Still, there was a moment early on when everything just sort of came together. Part light bulb and part pep talk, the turning point of the season came after a tough loss in Miami the day after Thanksgiving when Andre Iguodala got the team together and gave them a very simple message…

“We’re close,” he told his teammates. “Let’s stick together.”

From that point, the Sixers have gone 37-23 and are the one team in the Eastern Conference that the heavyweights want to avoid in the first round of the playoffs.

Still, did Iguodala realize then that his words would resonate so profoundly? 

“With some of the personalities we have it’s all about confidence,” Iguodala said. “Some of the guys play well based off if the ball is going in the hole for them or not. If the ball is not going in the hole the guy’s confidence can get shot. We had just lost to Miami and we played well, so I felt I had to reiterate to the guys that if we continue to play at that level we’ll beat the majority of the teams in the league and we’ll be alright. Since then, we’ve been doing that.”

What Iguodala’s words did was show the younger guys on the team that just because they were 3-13 that the season wasn’t over. Though it seemed as if the Sixers couldn’t wait for the year to end last season when they only won 27 games with a coach in Eddie Jordan that just didn’t mesh well with the ballclub, it would have been easy for a poor start to demoralize the team.

However, with an active roster comprised of six players with three or fewer years of experience and just five guys over the age of 24, Iguodala’s speech and Elton Brand to support was gigantic.

“For the guys to know that I was 100 percent on board and trying and Andre was on board and trying, it showed that we weren’t giving up on the season even though we were 3-13,” Brand said. 

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Long suffering Elton Brand finally gets second chance at playoffs

Brand_doug There aren’t a whole lot of details that Elton Brand remembers from his last trip to the NBA playoffs except for one important one…

“It was too short,” Brand said.

Five years ago with the Los Angeles Clippers, Brand carried his team to the seventh game of the Western Conference semifinals against the Phoenix Suns where his 36-point performance just wasn’t enough to advance. In fact, with Brand averaging 31 points, 10 rebounds and more than 45 minutes per game in the series, there wasn’t much more he could have done for his Clippers.

Had Brand and the Clippers won Game 7, he certainly would have been the toast of Tinseltown since the Lakers had already lost to the Suns in the previous round. Still, his best memory of his lone playoff appearance is quite pure and it has to do with the basics of why people play the game.

“The excitement and how hard everybody plays – it’s amazing,” Brand said. “Then to win a series and put another team down, that’s what I’ll remember.”

But as fate would have it, Brand hasn’t been back to the playoffs since. More notably, who would have guessed that in 11 NBA seasons headed into the 2010-11 campaign that the 2005-06 Clippers would be the only winning team Brand played for.

Until now, that is.

Wednesday night’s 108-97 victory over the Houston Rockets at the Center all but sewed up a spot for the 76ers in the postseason. The worst the team can do is tie for the No. 8 seed, but of course the Sixers would have to lose the last seven games of the season and the Charlotte Bobcats would have to win out. The chances of that happening are less than one percent.

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Sixers stand with their closer

Iguodala There was a moment during the 2009 baseball season when the easy move for manager Charlie Manuel would have simply been for him to sit down Brad Lidge as his closer. In fact, it was set up perfectly for Manuel to pull the plug on Lidge after a late-September game in Miami where the closer gave up two runs on three hits and a walk to give one away.

But Manuel would not bail on his guy despite the 11 blown saves and an ERA closing in on 8. Why would he?

“These are our guys. We’ll stick with him,” Manuel said before a game in Milwaukee that year. “Lidge has to do it. Between him and [Ryan] Madson, they’ve got to get it done.  … We’ve just got to get better.”

Of course Manuel said he wasn’t going to depose Lidge as the closer even though he used him just four times over the final 11 games and pushed Madson into the two save chances the team had down the stretch. In other words, Lidge was the closer even though Madson was pitching the ninth inning. That’s what is called “managing” and Manuel had been around long enough to know that if he lost Lidge in late 2009, he might not ever get him back.

Apparently loyalty is a character flaw in the eyes of most sports fans.

Just look at how folks are up in arms about Sixers’ coach Doug Collins putting the ball in Andre Iguodala’s hands at the end of tight game. To steal some baseball jargon, Iguodala is the Sixers’ closer and in a tied game with the clock winding down, it’s up to him to get the team some points any way possible.

“The ball’s going to be in his hands,” Collins said after Sunday’s 114-111 overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings.

Iguodala had the ball with seven seconds left in Sunday’s game and the Sixers trailing by two points. Viewed as the team’s best “playmaker,” this made perfect sense. Iguodala could penetrate, look for an open man, pull up for a jumper or drive to the hoop. It’s nothing new and since Allen Iverson left town, Iguodala has been the closer and succeeded at a better rate than the other A.I.

Actually, according to the advanced metrics that measure such things, Iguodala is 16th in the NBA since 2006 in “clutch” points, which account for performance with five minutes to go in the fourth quarter or overtime when neither team ahead by more than five points. Interestingly, Iguodala rated better than All-Stars Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Vince Carter.

This season Iguodala’s scoring average in clutch time has dipped nearly 20 points with Lou Williams leading the club with 28.4 points in clutch time. However, based on other advanced stats, Iguodala is still the man to have the ball when it’s on the line. A look at turnovers, shooting percentage and the inscrutable plus-minus, Collins is right to give the ball to Iguodala. Failing that, Elton Brand is the next-best option.

Reality and statistics seldom mesh, though[1]. That’s when perception takes over and often that does nothing more than unfairly marginalize a player. In this area, perception might as well be Iguodala’s middle name.

In some circles, Iguodala is a poor player because he has a “superstar salary” and not a superstar game. The reality is that notion is just plain stupid. Iguodala barely cracks the top 40 in the NBA in annual salary and isn’t even the highest paid player on the Sixers. Is he one of the top 40 players in the league? Yeah, probably. Is he the best player on the team?

Do we have to answer that?

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Thad Young gets back to basics

Thad Thaddeus Young was struggling. One look at the game-by-game logs revealed as much. Though his scoring average had steadily been climbing from month-to-month, Young didn’t make a shot in 20 minutes during the ugly loss in Milwaukee on March 12. 

Sixers’ coach Doug Collins noticed Young was missing something during the games against Utah and the Clippers, using him for just 13 minutes during the game in Los Angeles. The fear, says Collins, was that Young was getting run down.

“Thad went through a two or three game period where I was worried that he was tired,” Collins said.

So rather than bury Young on the bench until he regained his snap, Collins had a better idea. On an off day in Sacramento, the coach got a gym and sent Young and a handful of his teammates out to play 3-on-3. No pressure, no whistles, no scrimmages or anything resembling a regular basketball game—the task was for Young to play pickup hoops with some of his friends.

Guess what? It worked.

“Actually, the [assistant coach] Michael Curry and the coaches took Thad and some guys out to just play some up-and-down basketball and they wanted Thad to handle the ball and finish shots during the games,” Collins explained. “So they went over and played and [Curry] came back and said, ‘Thad had a great day, he was in a great rhythm.’ Then he finished that trip very strong.”

After that day in Sacramento, Young’s play improved and so did his energy level. In 23 minutes against the Kings he grabbed 10 rebounds and scored nine points despite shooting just 4-for-12. However, with Andre Iguodala on the bench for the game against Portland last Saturday night, Young scored 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting with six rebounds in 27 minutes.

Apparently all it took was breaking the game down to the basics for Young to find what he’d been missing. It makes sense, too, if you think about it. Though this is his fourth season in the NBA, Young is still just 22 and if he had stayed at Georgia Tech to play all four seasons, he’d be a rookie in the league this year.

Instead, basketball had been a job for Young when he was still a teenager and though he may be a veteran in the league in terms of experience, every once in a while he still needs to strip the game down to its essence and just play.

“We went to the gym—me, Marreese [Speights], Evan Turner,Craig Brackins, Coach Curry and Coach McKie—and we got in there and just played,” Young said. “We played 3-on-3 just to get me back in the groove. Sometimes that’s what you need to get a feel for the ball and to get you a feel for the court and the gym to get you back in a rhythm.”

In Wednesday night’s victory over the Hawks, Young was the best player on the floor. As the first player off the bench, Young scored 16 points on 12 shots, blocked a couple of shots and caused all sorts of trouble for the Hawks in the paint. Most telling was the fact that Collins kept Young in the game for all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter. 

Better yet, Collins said Young was an instant shot of energy when he was in the game, especially after stoppages in play. With the Hawks holding a lead throughout Wednesday’s game, which they built to 11 points in the fourth quarter, Young and fellow reserve Lou Williams proved to be the catalysts of the Sixers’ 11-0 run to start the final quarter.

“He gives us a speed and a quickness advantage,” Collins said, noting that Young would likely be a starter on another team. “We came out of three or four timeouts [on Wednesday night against the Hawks] where he scored every time. … As a coach it makes you feel so good when you can score coming out of a timeout.”

So maybe Collins’ plan worked?

“Any time you have a day off you want to do something,” Young said. “The other guys went to lift and the six of us went to the gym to play some 3-on-3 to get ourselves back in rhythm.”

Meanwhile, with Andre Iguodala again questionable with right knee tendonitis for Friday’s game in Miami, Collins will need Young to be the spark.

Collins winning without a championship

Collins_card It’s not often that one is in the presence of a first-person witness to a truly historical moment. Your grandfather might have been there for D-Day or the Battle of the Bulge, however, not only are the numbers of members of the “Greatest Generation” dwindling, but also those guys weren’t always keen on taking about what they saw.

Otherwise, your parents (like most of us) saw historical moments from in front of the television where it was safe and there were beverages nearby. Maybe in the modern day folks follow flashpoints of time on a mobile device with a Twitter app where they can dig through the information as it is reported. That just might be the highest point of historical participation these days.

But Doug Collins, the coach of the 76ers, has seen some things. In fact, when Collins was just 21 in 1972, before he had been drafted as the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA by the Sixers and in the ABA by both the Nuggets and Nets, he was in the Olympic Village in Munich when an Arab terrorist group known as Black September, captured Israeli athletes and ultimately massacred them.

Two days after the massacre, Collins and his U.S. teammates played Italy in semifinal round of the Olympic tournament, which set up the gold medal game against the Soviets a few days later.

Imagine being 21-years old with a year of college left and having to play in the gold medal Olympic basketball game for your country not even a week after a terrorist group stormed the compound where you were living and killed the members of the Israeli contingent… now imagine being that guy and playing in the most infamous basketball game of all-time—a game in which it appeared you had scored the game-winning points on two foul shots with three seconds left.

Doug Collins knows about that. He lived it. He was there.

We talked about 1972 very briefly with Collins on Monday afternoon following the Sixers practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, but the subject was brought up only after something the coach said about his current ballclub and how it might be the best coaching experience of his career. Considering Collins coached Michael Jordan in his third season in the league and then again for his final two seasons in Washington. But as far as championships go, Collins was the predecessor to the run the Bulls had with Phil Jackson and took over Detroit when the Bad Boys had been broken up.

Collins, as he pointed out, had never won a championship.

“I’m a guy who always loved being around young players because I always enjoyed the teaching aspect and there is nothing I get more fulfillment from than watching young players grow up and get better and go on to have really great careers,” Collins said. “I get as much satisfaction out of that than some guys do lifting up a championship trophy. I think there are different levels of success and I’ve never been a champion. I’ve always felt like I’ve been a winner, but I’ve never stood up as the last guy and held up the trophy. But somewhere along the line I’ve helped some guys to be able to do that and that’s what I try to do.”

He was right. In 1977, Collins and Julius Erving carried the scoring load as the Sixers took a 2-0 lead over Portland in the NBA Finals. Collins scored 30 in Game 1, but then had to get stitches in Game 2 after Darryl Dawkins’ punch meant for Bob Gross caught Collins’ face. From there the Sixers proceeded to lose four in a row.

The Sixers didn’t make it back to the Finals until 1980, but by then Collins’ career was owned by injuries and he didn’t appear in the playoffs and he decided to retire after just 12 games in the 1980-81 season.

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Holy Moses

Moses_malone

If you were lucky enough to watch Moses Malone play on a regular basis, there was nothing about it that looked easy. He wasn’t what anyone would label graceful and because he had relatively small hands for a 6-foot-10 guy, Moses always seemed to be clinging to the ball with extra might.

Add in the fact that Moses was covered with a drenching sweat seconds after the opening tip and it added to the image of a guy busting it out there. He was no force of nature like many NBA superstars we have seen, but he brought a rare championship to Philadelphia and became one of the NBA’s all-time 50 greatest players through force of will.

More than anything, Moses was a rebounder. He’d park himself on the low block and run a tip drill when a ball came off the rim. If the ball didn’t go in after one of his tips, he’d get it again… and again until the play was finished. Considering he broke in with the Utah Stars straight out of Petersburg, Va. high school in 1974 and didn’t retire until 1995 just illustrates the point.

Maybe the best explanation how Moses acquired his style for no-fluff and tenacious basketball comes from the fact that as a high school kid he often was allowed to play pickup games with the inmates at the nearby prison. If that doesn’t teach a guy how to be tough…

Kevin Love, the big man for the Minnesota Timberwolves, has a knack for rebounding just like Moses. He learned his craft a little differently, though. The son of NBA/ABA player, Stan Love, and nephew of Beach Boys singer, Mike Love, the younger Love didn’t hone his game playing against prisoners. Instead, he went to UCLA for one season and spent last summer with Team USA in the World Championships. In Moses’ day, only college players could be on international teams and since he grew up in poverty in a single-parent home, the goal was to get some money.

Nevertheless, with a league-leading 15.5 rebounds per game to go with nearly 21 points per game, Love’s numbers mirror some of those posted by Moses during his career with the 76ers. Of course those pertain only to the regular season because Love hasn’t been to the playoffs yet. That means he hasn’t made any boasts like Moses in predicting three straight sweeps like he did with “fo’, fo’, fo’,” during the Sixers’ run in 1983.

However, like Moses in 1978-79, Love is piling up some ridiculous feats. Back then for the Houston Rockets, Moses notched at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in 50 straight games to set the (modern day) all-time record for such a thing. Wilt Chamberlain registered 227 straight double-doubles during the NBA's statistical dark ages. That was back when a guy like Wilt could average 50.4 points per game (1962) and lead the league in assists another season (1968). Better yet, Wilt is the only player in NBA history to get a double triple-double when he got 24 points, 26 rebounds and 21 assists in a game for the Sixers in the 1968 season,

In other words, we're counting Moses' 50 straight double-doubles as the modern day record.

So, during the '78-'79 season, Moses got nearly 25 points and 18 rebounds per game during the regular season and then 24.5 points and 20 rebounds during the playoffs to win his first of three MVP awards.

Think about 50 straight double-doubles for a second… that means no nights off, no mailing it in and no resting on a back-to-back or even a stretch where the Rockets spent a weekend with games in Phoenix, Portland and Seattle on three straight nights. Better yet, Moses pulled off the feat despite playing on the same team as noted ball hogs Rick Barry and Calvin Murphy.

Love got his 49th straight double-double in the 111-100 loss in Philadelphia on Friday night, finishing the game with 21 points and 23 boards on the heels of a 20-20 effort two nights prior. He will attempt to tie Moses’ record on Saturday in Washington against one of his dad’s old teams and where the Hall-of-Famer he gets his middle name from, Wesley Unseld.

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Despite numbers, Iguodala may be having best year

Andre-iguodala To put it mildly, it really has been an interesting season for Sixers’ forward, Andre Iguodala. He has missed games with an injury, struggled with his shot from time to time, and been a consistent source of fuel for the rumor mill.

In fact, most close observers of the 76ers fall on the side of trade/no-trade argument with very little middle ground when it comes to Iguodala, often citing the remaining years and money on his current deal as the grounds for moving and/or keeping him.

Shoot, to hear Iguodala describe it, his season has been nothing but a struggle. This season, he has missed 12 of the Sixers’ 60 games after missing a grand total of six games and playing in 252 consecutive games in his first six seasons in the league. His shooting percentage dipped last season and has remained low, while his foul-shooting percentage is at a career low. Most noticeable, of course, is the scoring average, which has dipped three whole points per game from 17.1 last season (and a high of 19.9 in 2008) to 14.1 this season.

“It’s been up and down, but I really just try to look at it from a team standpoint,” Iguodala explained after Thursday’s practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “We started slow when we were trying to find what our niche was and different roles. Then, we started to win and we continued that trend of playing good basketball.”

But there’s a lot more to Iguodala than that. In the realm of advanced metrics, Iguodala is charting the best Win Shares per 48 minutes, assist percentage, the best defensive rating and best rate of turnovers given in a season for his career. 

As head coach Doug Collins explains it, Iguodala just might be having the best season of his career.

“I think Andre with his defense and his leadership has been terrific,” Collins said. “He’s averaging about 15 [points] a game, but he had two of the best defensive plays that I’ve seen all year long the other night against Dallas. Unfortunately, we did not convert, but Andre is a playmaker for us. He’s a rebounder, he’s a defender and I think he’s been terrific. 

“I never judge a guy like that based on his statistics. I judge him by the value to his team and how well he plays and if he gives you a chance to win. When we were 3-13 it was his voice that did the most. He said, ‘Guys, hang in there. We’re close.’ That voice helped us battle through that and get us through to where we are today.”

More than anything else, it has been Iguodala’s defense that has sparked the Sixers’ turnaround. Whether it’s conscious or not, Iguodala has taken fewer shots – especially from behind the three-point arc – ceding some to up-and-comers like Jodie MeeksJrue Holiday and Lou Williams

Offensively, Iguodala has put aside his contract and ego in order to get the kids involved more.

“I’ve been trying to be a leader and do what I can to make some of the guys become better,” Iguodala said.

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Forget the draft (just win, baby!)

Bad_news Even though the 76ers are playing some decent basketball
lately and slowly making up ground for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference
playoff picture, some fans of the team are actually aghast. Winning games and
slipping into the playoffs doesn’t serve these guys well, the argument goes.

There is some logic to that, but not much. Sure, the
Sixers might be able to add a missing piece to help build for the future,
however, even if they lose every game for the rest of the season they have a
small shot at nabbing the top pick.

So what’s wrong with making the playoffs? Based on the
Sixers’ draft history winning ball games and trying to rebuild with free agents
(always difficult to do with the NBA’s salary cap) might be the best tact.

Sure, we know all about the recent picks like Jrue
Holliday, Marreese Speights, Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala and
Sam Dalembert, who are all solid players and should help the team in the
future. All of those players were selected well out of the top 10 picks (except for Iguodala) from
draft classes that weren’t known for being particularly deep, so in that regard
the team did pretty well.

It’s just when the Sixers get into the top handful of
picks where things get crazy. Yes, Allen Iverson was the top overall pick in
1996 and he’s headed for the Hall of Fame, and Charles Barkley was taken fifth
overall in the famous 1984 draft. But for every Iverson and Barkley there is a
Shawn Bradley, Sharone Wright, Charles Smith, Keith Van Horn, Marvin “Bad News”
Barnes and whatever the hell that was in 1986.

Indeed, June hasn’t been the kindest month for the
Sixers.

Just look at what
happened from 1973to 1975 where the Sixers had four picks in the top five and
six first-round selections. That’s where following the NBA-record nine-win
season the team took Doug Collins with the top pick in ’73 (not bad), took
Roman Catholic and St. Joe’s alum Mike Bantom with the fourth-pick before it
was disallowed for some reason[1],
and then snagged Raymond Lewis from California State University at Los Angeles
at No. 18.

Collins, of course, was a four-time All-Star and scored
22 points per game in during the run to the Finals in 1977. However, injuries
ended Collins’ career before he turned 30. Bantom spent nine seasons in the NBA
before closing out his career with the Sixers in 1982. Instead of latching on
with the ’83 title team, Bantom played in Italy.

The dubiousness of the ’73 draft was trumped in a big way
in 1974 where the Sixers took Bad News Barnes with the second overall pick. It
actually might have been an interesting pick had Barnes not jumped to the
Spirit of St. Louis in the ABA before becoming the poster child for the era of
bad behavior in the 1970s.

In the history of nicknames, Barnes’ was perfect. During
his rookie season with St. Louis, he disappeared for days presumably to renegotiate
his contract—in the middle of his first season, no less. After days off the
grind (much easier to do in 1974), Barnes was finally located with his agent in
a pool hall in Dayton, Oh.

They always turn up in the first place you should look…

Barnes played in just 315 pro games, made the playoffs
once in the ABA and appeared in two ABA All-Star Games. That was when he was in
relative control. When Barnes was in full Bad News mode, it was pretty dark.
Check out this interview he
gave to Fanhouse last December
:

"I was making
40 to 50 grand a week [selling] the drugs,'' said Barnes. "I was making so
much money (in the selling of marijuana) it was hard to stay focused (on
basketball).''

Barnes said he served as an investor with drug kingpin Paul Edward Hindelang Jr.,
who would later cooperate with the government and forfeit $50 million in
drug-trafficking proceeds. Barnes said Hindelang's right-hand man was Roosevelt
Becton, a friend of the basketball player whom he describes as the
"godfather'' who "ran St. Louis.''

"Hindelang was the guy who started the 'mother ship,' which would park
five miles away and boats would shoot for the (Colombia) shore,'' Barnes said.
"He got a two-ton freighter a bunch of us (contributed for financially).
Then it would go down and buy two tons of Colombian marijuana.

"It was the
best marijuana. We bought it from the Colombian government for a dollar a pound
… I was investing money (in the operation).''

Talk about wasted talent:

"I was one of the five best players on
the planet, period"

"I would have been one of the 50 greatest players of all time,'' said
Barnes, 57, who now works with at-risk teenagers in his Men to Men program in
his hometown of Providence, R.I., telling them the pitfalls of drugs. "I
was one of the five best players on the planet period (with St. Louis). Just
ask anybody (from) back then … I was kicking some butt. … But I was going
on a downhill spiral. I met drug traffickers in St. Louis and they showed me
another way of life. And that was detrimental to my basketball career.''

Maybe it wasn’t so bad that Barnes didn’t end up with the
Sixers. Imagine Barnes in the frontcourt with Darryl Dawkins and Julius Erving
with a team that featured Collins, George McGinnis, World B. Free, Henry Bibby,
Steve Mix and Caldwell Jones. That’s a team that could have gone 11 deep with
Jellybean Bryant and Harvey Catchings filling roles, too.

Instead, Barnes was a wasted No. 2 pick in a deep
draft  where the Sixers could have
snapped up any one of the 18 players who went on to play at least 550 games in
the NBA. This includes Hall of Famer George Gervin.

The team finished up the three-year stretch of top picks
by getting Dawkins with the No. 5 pick before swiping Free in the second round.
In 1975, the Sixers did about just as well as they could do, arguably getting
the two players that went on to have the best careers of the draft class.

Still, the team didn’t really come together until Doc
came aboard in 1976. And despite the loss to the Blazers in the ’77 Finals and
to the Lakers in ’80 and ‘82, the championship squad wasn’t built on top draft
picks, though Andrew Toney was the No. 8 pick in the 1980 draft.

They got Mo Cheeks late in the second round in 1978,
Clint Richardson late in the second in 1979, as well as Franklin Edwards and
Mark McNamara late in the first rounds of the 1981 and 1982 drafts. Otherwise,
the best Sixers’ team was built with trades and signings… Bobby Jones came from
Denver for McGinnis; they bought Doc from the Nets; Marc Iavaroni was signed
after the Knicks waived him; and Moses arrived in a trade with Houston in which
the Sixers gave up Caldwell Jones and their first pick of the ’83 draft.

Not bad.

Moses If only the Sixers could have drafted as well when given
a top pick. Oh sure, Barkley and Iverson were hard to mess up, especially since
two of the greatest players ever were taken ahead of Sir Chuck (Hakeem Olajuwon
and Michael Jordan). But just imagine what could have been if the Sixers had
simply drafted Brad Daugherty with the top pick of the 1986 draft and dropped
him into the frontcourt with Barkley and Moses.

Instead, just before it was their turn to make the No. 1 pick, owner Harold Katz sent it to Cleveland for Roy Hinson (yes, Roy Hinson!) before dealing Moses and Terry Catledge to Washington for Cliff Robinson and Jeff Ruland.

/shakes head/

Those trades made little sense in 1986 and make even less sense now.

What were they thinking?

Imagine those three up front with Cheeks and Hersey
Hawkins in the backcourt.

Go ahead… we’ll wait.

Now imagine that the Sixers can knock off the Celtics or
Pistons as the ‘80s end and instead of taking Christian Welp at No. 16 in 1987,
they get Mark Jackson (third all-time in assists) or Reggie Lewis (perennial All-Star
before his untimely death). Sure, the No. 3 pick of Charles Smith and
subsequent deal for Hawkins worked out, but what if the Sixers would have just
kept the pick and taken Mitch Richmond instead. That lineup turns to Moses,
Barkley, Daugherty, Cheeks and Richmond.

Sigh!  

Strangely, the Sixers eventually have had a bunch of No.
1 picks in recent years, starting with Iverson, Joe Smith, Derrick Coleman,
Elton Brand and Chris Webber.

What? They couldn’t swing a deal for Kwame Brown?

Try this out—from 1990 to 1999 drafts, the Sixers have had 20 top
10 draft picks end up on their roster. Ready for them?

1990—Coleman (No. 1 to New Jersey) and Willie Burton (No. 9 to Miami)

1991—Dikembe Mutombo (No. 4 to Denver)

1992—Jim Jackson (No. 4 to New Jersey) and Clarence
Witherspoon (No. 9)

1993—Webber (No. 1 to Orlando), Bradley (No. 2) and Rodney Rogers (No. 9 to Denver)

1994—Donyell Marshall (No. 4 to Golden State), Sharone
Wright (No. 6) and Eric Montross (No. 9 to Boston)

1995—Joe Smith (No. 1 to Golden State) and Jerry Stackhouse (No. 3)

1996—Iverson(No. 1)

1997—Keith Van Horn (No. 2) and Tim Thomas (No. 7 to New
Jersey)

1998—Robert Traylor (No. 6 to Dallas) and Larry Hughes
(No. 8)

1999—Brand (No. 1 to Chicago) and Andre Miller (No. 8 to Cleveland)

So the Sixers certainly have had chances to rebuild with
the draft, only it really hasn’t worked out that way. Even the roster for the
2001 run to the Finals was constructed with trades and free-agent moves.
Considering that as recently as 1995 to 1997 that the team had a top three pick
each year and kept one player longer than two seasons explains all one needs to
know about the Sixers in the draft.

Tank it? No t'anks.


[1] My research came up small. Why did the
Sixers draft Mike Bantom No. 4, have the pick disallowed and then watch
Banton go to Phoenix at No. 8?