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John Schuhmann

Under-the-radar Sixers climbing Eastern conference charts


Posted Feb 5 2011 10:47AM

NEWARK -- If only they could get a couple of those close games back.

The Philadelphia 76ers are 4-11 in games decided by five points or less. Overall, they've outscored their opponents by a total of 30 points, but they're three games below .500 because they've mostly failed in the clutch.

Turn two of those 11 losses into wins and the Sixers would be tied with the New York Knicks for sixth place in the Eastern Conference heading into the second game of their home-and-home miniseries on Sunday. Much has been made about the Knicks' resurgence this season, but not many have noticed the team that is right on their tails.

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Friday's win over the Knicks put the Sixers at 20-13 since Nov. 27, when they stood in last place in the Eastern Conference at 3-13. Philadelphia finished two games behind New York last season and is two games behind the Knicks through Friday. They've basically made the same improvement, and the only free agent they signed last summer was Tony Battie.

So head coach Doug Collins deserves a lot of the credit for his team's success. When he replaced Eddie Jordan, he took over a squad with no go-to scorer, no interior defense (once Samuel Dalembert was traded) and little perimeter shooting. And during the preseason, he honestly admitted that he was having a hard time figuring out how they were going to score consistently.

But in Game 19, Collins discovered a starting lineup that gave him a boost both offensively and defensively. That lineup has cooled off a bit since its first several games together (it now ranks 38th among lineups that have played at least 100 minutes), but Collins continues to find success deeper into his rotation.

In fact, among the 134 lineups around the league that have played at least 75 minutes together, the Sixers' small lineup, with Thaddeus Young replacing Spencer Hawes on the frontline, is the best. Jrue Holiday, Jodie Meeks, Andre Iguodala, Young and Elton Brand have outscored their opponents by an incredible 37.1 points per 100 possessions in 83 minutes together.

NBA.com StatsCube: Best five-man units
Team Unit MIN Off. Rat. Def. Rat. Diff.
PHI Holiday, Meeks, Iguodala, Young, Brand 83 126.2 89.1 +37.1
UTA Williams, Miles, Kirilenko, Millsap, Jefferson 105 123.6 95.3 +28.2
DAL Kidd, Terry, Marion, Nowitzki, Chandler 93 124.9 98.6 +26.3
DAL Kidd, Stevenson, Butler, Nowitzki, Chandler 257 119.0 94.4 +24.6
NOH Paul, Thornton, Ariza, West, Okafor 78 121.6 97.4 +24.2
Minimum 75 minutes
Off. Rat. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Rebounding is a concern with that unit, so Collins uses it sparingly, and not even in every game. The numbers are skewed somewhat by a seven-minute, plus-18 performance in Denver on Dec. 26, but the lineup has produced a positive plus-minus in 15 of the 19 games it's played together.

Young may be the key. He leads the team in raw plus-minus at plus-92, with the Sixers better both offensively and defensively with him on the floor. And he has proven to be much more effective at the four than at the three.

"When he's playing that four spot and we get out on the break, he's devastating with his speed and quickness," Collins said.

It's a contrast from last season, when Young took a step backward in his only season under Jordan after a strong sophomore campaign.

"I just didn't feel comfortable at all within the offense last year," Young said. "I don't think it was a perfect fit for me. I like this offense."

Jordan's offense wasn't a good fit for most of the Sixers' roster. But not all of that was Jordan's fault. Since Andre Miller left for Portland, the roster has been a strange mix without an identity or much cohesion.

Somehow, Collins has begun to make it work. Along with Young, Brand is having a renaissance season, while Holiday and Meeks each continue to grow in their second year in the league.

Without that go-to guy, Sixers have had to win with balance. They have five guys averaging double-figures, with a sixth, Meeks, averaging double-figures as a starter.

They don't have an All-Star, and you can't make a strong argument for any of their players over the 12 that fans and coaches selected to represent the Eastern Conference. But if you were making a list of the next 12 guys in the East deserving of All-Star consideration, you might have four Sixers on it: Brand, Holiday, Iguodala and Young.

The Sixers currently rank 16th in the league offensively and 12th defensively. And since that 3-13 start, they've been the fifth best team in the East statistically. Without an offensive or defensive anchor, that's probably their peak. But it's clear that Collins is making the most of what he's got.

As they fight for the sixth spot, the Sixers can't look back at those narrow defeats. They can, however, look forward to the playoffs.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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