Monday, February 14, 2011

The New Kids on the Block

And for the very first time in almost a decade, a professional basketball team from the City of Brotherly Love has emerged. With the Philadelphia 76ers getting off to a 3-13 start to the season, one of the most prestigious basketball towns in the country braced for yet another year of 76er ineptitude. With Doug Collins stepping in as the 7th head coach in the last 8 seasons since Larry Brown's departure, that losing feeling had crept up on us again in the first month. But something changed after that 3-13 start. Someone or something flipped a switch. A fire had been lit under this team's behind, and we would start to see a very different team. A team that has conjured up memories of the Allen Iverson days (not his brief stint in 2010), a team that is poised to make noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs, a team with a winning record against the vaunted Western Conference. One night in early December changed everything, and has the 2010-2011 version of the Philadelphia 76ers flying high.
On Saturday night, December 4th, a night after taking a crushing 4th quarter beat down in Atlanta, the 5-14 76ers faced off against the pesky Charlotte Bobcats. Jodie Meeks, who many know as the guy who scored 55 points in a game as a Kentucky Wildcat a few years ago, stepped in as a starter for only the second time in his NBA career. It didn't take long for him to assert himself, scoring 20 of his game high 26 points in the first quarter, going 6-6 from beyond the arc in an amazing first quarter show which propelled the Sixers to a big 109-91 win. Since this 1st quarter fireworks display, the 76ers have gone 21-14, with wins over Portland, New Orleans, Orlando, Denver twice, Phoenix twice, Chicago, Utah, and Atlanta, all of whom are playoff caliber teams. In addition, the 76ers held the NBA best 44-8 San Antonio Spurs to a season low 71 points in a 77-71 slugfest at the Wells Fargo Center on February 11th. Not too shabby for a team projected to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings this season.
The season is still young, and with a chance to get back to .500 before the All-Star break, the 26-28 76ers find themselves in the 7th seed, closely trailing the Knicks for the 6th seed in the East. Among the Sixers' top 8 in scoring and minutes per game, their average age is 24. That's right, the average age of Elton Brand (31), Andre Iguodala (27), Jrue Holiday (20), Spencer Hawes (22), Jodie Meeks (23), Evan Turner (22), Lou Williams (24), and Thad Young (22) is 24 years old. Which means with this nucleus of players, the 76ers will be a strong force for a while if General Manager Ed Stefanski can make it work.
For the first time in almost a decade, there is excitement on the basketball court in the Wells Fargo Center. With the World Series favorite Phillies, Stanley Cup favorite Flyers, and Super Bowl contender Eagles, the Sixers are the missing piece to the Philly sports puzzle. There is a bright future for these Sixers, and Doug Collins has them playing very well and very tough night in and night out. Whoever is lucky enough to match up against the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs will have their hands full, no doubt. The NBA no longer has a punching bag called the Philadelphia 76ers.
And by the way, those empty seats you used to see at 76ers games are starting to fill up, so get your tickets while you can.

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