Posted Sep 28 2010 6:35AM - Updated Oct 1 2010 2:33PM
PHILADELPHIA -- When it comes to teams that can make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, there are five or six sure things, leaving two or three spots open. And though they won just 27 games last season and didn't make any major changes to their roster, the Philadelphia 76ers can't be counted out.
The Sixers had talent beyond those 27 wins, but this team was a mess last season, rarely on the same page with each other or coach Eddie Jordan. A 12-game losing streak put them in a hole early on, and they limped to the finish, going 7-23 after the All-Star break.
The 2009-10 Sixers were poor on both ends of the floor. Offensively, they ranked 20th, scoring just 103.4 points per 100 possessions. Defensively, they were 23rd, allowing 107.6.
The offensive struggles came as no surprise. Lacking a go-to scorer since Allen Iverson was traded, the Sixers ranked 20th offensively each of the previous two seasons, but still made the playoffs. In those years, they won with their defense, ranking 10th defensively in 2007-08 and 14th in 2008-09. So when the defense fell off last season, the Sixers really struggled to get wins.
Though they lost Andre Miller before last season, the Sixers still had the personnel to be one of the better defensive teams in the league. Yet they were worse on that end of the floor than teams like the Kings and Clippers.
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Andre Iguodala believes that the problem was a matter of focus.
"We just didn't have that emphasis on the defensive end," Iguodala said at Media Day on Monday. "Last year, there was a lot of emphasis on the Princeton offense, which takes a long time to learn and adjust to."
"We were just all over the place," added Thaddeus Young. "We don't think our roles were defined on defense and what areas to cover."
Under new coach Doug Collins, the offense will be simpler and the focus will be back on defense. And the defensive principles, aimed at taking away the most efficient shots on the floor, should be there.
"The lane is our house, inside our 3-point line to the lane is our yard, and [the 3-point line] is the fence," Collins said last week. "We want to chase people inside the fence, make them play in the yard and keep them out of our house."
The strength of the Sixers' defense will clearly be on the perimeter. Jrue Holiday has played just 73 NBA games, but is already one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. Iguodala was the best defensive player on the best team in the world this summer. And both Young and Andres Nocioni bring defense to the forward position.
The interior is another story. Gone is Samuel Dalembert, who wasn't a very disciplined defender, but was certainly a shot-blocking presence in the paint. The three bigs that will get the most playing time this season will be Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes and Marreese Speights. And none of the three will intimidate opponents that come into the lane.
"Our big guys have to be body defenders in the paint," Collins said. "When people come in there they have to see bodies.
"We're not going to have a great shot-blocking team, so we are going to have to step in and take charges and be in the right spot. That's why we have to be connected."
But it will definitely be up to the perimeter defenders to keep their opponent in front of them. And as always, the Sixers will use their length to force turnovers and turn them into fast-break opportunities. Even last season, when their defense fell off dramatically, the Sixers were still a top 10 team when it came to forcing turnovers.
Most important, the Sixers must play together defensively. Collins will have rigid principles, a contrast from last season. But the principles don't matter if the players aren't following them, moving together and playing with energy.
"The system that we run defensively -- if you're not where you're supposed to be, you'll stick out like a sore thumb," Collins said. "So it'll be very easy to correct."
It all sounds great now. And it will be late November before we know just how well Collins can correct the Sixers' defensive issues of last season. But there's no doubt that this team has the ability to get back to being a top 10 defensive team. And if they can do that, the playoffs are a real possibility.
Under Contract: F Elton Brand, G Jrue Holiday, F-G Andre Iguodala, G Jodie Meeks, F-C Marreese Speights, G Louis Williams, F Thaddeus Young, F-G Jason Kapono (Player option)
Free Agents: G Allen Iverson (Unrestricted)
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