The Philadelphia 76ers, one of the hottest teams in the NBA in January, hadn’t exactly been building on this success during their current seven-game homestand. In fact, heading into action Thursday, the Sixers had dropped two of the first three games of the stand. But Thursday, Philly withstood a late run by the Pacers to snap a two-game losing skid and get back to .500 for the season.
It’s been a season of slight progress for the Sixers, but certainly not to the extent that many had expected. After makes strides offensively last season, the team’s scoring hasn’t developed any more. The defense is slightly better, but again, nothing earth shattering. The Sixers are second in the division, but only because Toronto has tanked this season. They currently hold down the seventh seed in the East and have been inching closer to sixth-place Miami, setting up a big game Saturday night when the Heat comes to town.
Of course, the big news in Sixer Land is that Elton Brand’s shoulder – you know, the one expected to keep him out for a month back before Christmas — has now sidelined the team’s big off-season acquisition for the remainder of the year. He managed to return and play five games last month and one in February, but wasn’t seeing significant enough minutes to really be a fantasy factor, so essentially – from his owners’ standpoint – he has just been a waste of space for almost two months now. Well, at least you can now cut him without fear he’ll come back to bite you.
With Brand out, look for Andre Miller to take a more important role in the offense in the coming weeks. He’s been dropping dimes like mad lately, dishing a dozen Thursday and averaging 8.4 in the past five. But he’s also logging heavy minutes since Brand shut it down. There have been rumours he could be dealt, so that’s something to keep an eye on. Miller hasn’t shot the ball quite as well this season, and that’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be turning around after his 3-for-9 performance Thursday dropped him to 40 per cent for the past three games. As Miller’s touches rise, it appears his FG percentage won’t come along for the ride. Still, I’m sure you’re not complaining about the double-double he dropped Thursday – just his fourth of the season after he racked up 14 last season. Overall, Miller has had a decent season, probably good enough to justify the fourth round pick you likely spent to obtain him, but I’m not sure how much more he’s going to help you now that Brand is done.
Obviously, the other player who will be leaned on more now is Andre Iguodala. Let’s hope the extra touches helps Iggy continue to elevate his game after he endured a very sluggish start to the season. We had the dude pegged as a top 10 forward this year, but despite his recent turnaround, he’s still not playing like a top 15 forward. That could change in the second half, making him an excellent buy-low candidate. He’s been scoring well lately (20 PPG in the past five) and racking up the steals (seven in the past two games), but until Thursday, hadn’t been doing much in the way of boards and assists recently. However, Iguodala just missed out on a triple double – something he hasn’t accomplished in a couple of seasons. He settled for his ninth double-double of the season, which – surprisingly – is a new career high, and we’re only in February. Most people have been moaning about his down year, but really, he’s not far behind what he accomplished last season, and there’s still time for him to exceed it. Iggy’s been getting more touches as the season has progressed, and that’s a trend that should definitely continue in the wake of Brand’s shut down. The fact that Iguodala has shot the ball better this season (47.5 per cent) bodes well for a big second half, offensively.
In both of the losses during its two-game skid, Philly coughed up leads late. Thursday, the Sixers held their own. That’s a trend that will have to continue if this team hopes to keep moving up the Eastern Conference standings. But as long as they keep finding ways to win (11 in the past 15 games), the Sixers are going to be a team no one is interested in meeting come playoff time in April.
The 76ers took over the game in the third quarter, outscoring Indy 26-13 and you can thank Willie Green for this run. He poured in 11 of his season-high 23 points in the quarter. With Brand out, perhaps it’s time to consider Green in a deeper league as a possible wire pickup. Sure, he’s been inconsistent as hell (he scored a 20 points last Friday, but just 12 in the next two games before his explosion Thursday), but you’ve got to figure his waning PT should turn around now. I mean, with season highs in points twice in the past four games, Green deserves a bit more burn and if he starts regularly seeing 25 or more minutes, he’ll be worth a pickup. Even though he’s a backcourt player, Green’s value has been directly tied to Brand’s status. Green lost his starting job to Iggy this year, as Iggy moved from the three to the two to accommodate Brand in the frontcourt, but Green is back starting since Brand got hurt, and now it looks like he’ll hang onto the role for the remainder of the season. One note, however: I’d watch how the minutes shake out between Green and Lou Williams before making a claim on either.
With Brand toast, Philly needs a more balanced attack like it received Thursday when five players hit double-digits in scoring. In addition to Green, Iguodala and Miller, Samuel Dalembert came through with a big night (18 points and 20 boards) while Thaddeus Young (also expected to benefit from Brand’s injury), pitched in with 14 points.