Interim coach Tony DiLeo is off to a 3-0 start in his young term leading the Sixers. Hey, the boys may only be beating lowly squads like Washington and Milwaukee, but wins are wins and you play the schedule you are dealt. I believe that Stefanski wanted to pull the trigger on the coaching change earlier, but wisely waited for a softer stretch to allow DiLeo to build confidence and set his own pace. Simply a great move.
The latest win came Friday night against the Washington Wizards in our nation's capital. Surprisingly, the game was pretty exciting, featuring numerous lead changes and a decent dosage of quality play. The Sixers fought hard late in the game (when it counts most) and pulled off a 109-103 victory.
This much can be said:
1) Lou Williams is no joke.
After personally attending Wednesday's win over the Bucks and witnessing William's 25-point performance, his showing on Friday night came as no shock (26 points in 29 minutes!). Over the course of the team's three-game winning streak, Williams is posting 22 points per game on 53.3% shooting from the field. I am increasingly impressed with his maturation- in particular, he seems to be committing fewer turnovers, attacking the basket with greater success, and playing defense with newfound energy.
2) Reggie Evans is a beast. I am pleading with Tony DiLeo, please find this man more minutes! He goes after the ball like it's a magnet and simply never quits on a play.
3) To Andre Iguodala, please stop taking some of those horrendous shots. Iggy began the game 3-3, but followed that up with a 1-6 stretch. 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists is a nice line, but it just looks so ugly sometimes.
4) Congrats to Marreese Speights for a career night. I am very excited about this kid, he has obvious talent and should prove to be a powerful force in the post for years to come. Speights finished with an impressive 17 points on 7-9 shooting in 22 minutes of play.
5) Additional thumbs up to Thaddeus Young (18 points, 5 boards, and 8-8 from the free-throw line- including shots to put the game away) and Kareem Rush (added two three's off the bench).
Finally, and most importantly, we must address the issue of Elton Brand. This via the great Bob Ford over at the Inquirer:
I can't agree more. Look, I love these Sixers too. Without Brand, they can run up and down the court, Williams and Miller and Young scoring in transition all night long. But that will not win you championships. As the team found out in the playoffs last spring, every winning formula includes a viable half-court set that features a reliable force in the middle (cough Elton Brand cough).
Stefanski did not blame the architect - himself - for what appears to be a serious design flaw in the structure of the roster. That might have to come later, but not yet. First, you change the coach and use that as a litmus test. If Tony DiLeo gets the same results, and potentially, whoever follows DiLeo, then the problem isn't the coach. The problem is the team.
Reaching that conclusion is still a long way away, however, and much testing still has to be done. It has to be done with Brand on the court, though, and as long as he takes to recover from the shoulder injury (estimated at one month right now) - and as long as he remains gimpy from the effects of Achilles surgery and the occasional hamstring issue - the interim tests don't mean a thing.
Welcome then to a stretch in the Sixers' season that is more meaningless than usual. There will be some wins along the way, including what could be a pair this weekend against Washington and Indiana, but those will be merely sugar highs and have to be ignored. At the end of last season, as the team revived itself with 22 wins in its final 34 games, the Sixers ran like crazy and picked the low-hanging fruit of NBA.
It was great until the postseason arrived and Detroit took the Sixers apart by actually playing defense. That wasn't fair, was it? Suddenly, the Sixers couldn't run and, placed in the half-court game, they couldn't hide, either. They certainly couldn't get a reliable basket in the post and they couldn't shoot from range - which pretty much exhausted their options.
So, be prepared to sit back and enjoy the run-and-gun Sixers again for a while. They will be more fun to watch and there will be some meaningless wins along the way. If last season taught nothing else, it was the lesson of what meaningless run-and-gun wins actually represent.
That is why nothing really matters until Brand returns. In the meantime, the wait to meet the new and improved 76ers, already delayed, will have to last a while longer.
Only time will tell how this Sixers team turns out. Until Brand returns, let's just hope they stay in the playoff hunt.