January 4, 2012

In the lone matchup of the 2011-12 regular season between New Orleans and Philadelphia, the 76ers wrap up a difficult, five-game road stretch that included previous stops at Portland, Phoenix, Utah and Golden State. Although the compressed 66-game schedule includes a few unusual challenges for all 30 NBA teams, the 76ers caught a tough break in that they do not open their home slate until Friday vs. Detroit.

The Hornets and 76ers are coming off eerily similar 2010-11 seasons. Both teams won 40-plus games in the regular season, both were under the leadership of a new head coach (Monty Williams and Doug Collins, respectively) and both were a No. 7 seed in the playoffs (where they were ousted by the Lakers and Heat, respectively).

Thats where virtually all comparisons end, however. While New Orleans underwent a major roster transformation in December - including nine new players, with only six returnees Philadelphia opted to essentially retain its same personnel. The Sixers starting five who took the floor against Miami in the 2011 postseason is back, including point guard Jrue Holiday, shooting guard Jodie Meeks, small forward Andre Iguodala, power forward Elton Brand and center Spencer Hawes.

Its a group that has often given the Hornets fits in recent years. During NOLAs visit to Philadelphia just over a year ago, the 76ers held their guests to just 70 points the Hornets worst offensive performance of the entire 2010-11 campaign. New Orleans returned the favor later in the season, prevailing 84-77 over Philadelphia, so if the recent past is any indication, this could be a low-scoring, defensive-minded affair.

Intriguing matchup: Bench vs. Bench
There is often little drop-off for the 76ers when they start subbing in their second-unit players, primarily because of an ultra-talented reserve corps. For instance, lightning-quick guard Lou Williams was leading Philadelphia in scoring average during its 1-1 start, despite coming off the bench. Athletic small forward Thaddeus Young and second-year guard Evan Turner ranked fourth and fifth on the club in scoring, while also serving in backup roles. Meanwhile, New Orleans has also received numerous quality performances from its bench players. Backup center Chris Kaman has been a formidable interior presence at both ends of the floor, while point guard Greivis Vasquez and power forward Jason Smith have also delivered key plays.


Philadelphia has primarily been a middle-of-the-pack team in recent years, finishing either 40-42 or 41-41 in three of the past four seasons. During that relatively brief stretch, the 76ers have had a total of four different head coaches, though current leader Doug Collins has brought some much-needed stability to the City of Brotherly Love. After a terrible start to the 2010-11 regular season, Philadelphia found its groove and was one of the hotter teams in the league after the All-Star break. The Sixers have adopted a patient strategy that is banking on the continued development of young players such as recent first-round picks Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, both just 23 years old. Aside from 32-year-old power forward Elton Brand, each of Philadelphias prominent contributors are either in the early- or mid-20s. Most analysts projected the 76ers to take another step forward from last seasons .500 finish, which could vault them into contention for homecourt advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Whats new
Among the 10 players who appeared in Philadelphias first two regular season games, everyone was a returning player except for rookie frontcourt player Nikola Vucevic. The 6-foot-10 forward/center was a June 2011 first-round draft pick out of Southern Cal. Other than Vucevic, the only new face on the entire early-season roster is forward Lavoy Allen, who played college basketball in Philadelphia at Temple University.

76ers star
In his eighth season, swingman Andre Iguodala doesnt necessarily always put up big scoring numbers, but his all-around game makes him the 76ers most valuable performer. Blessed with tremendous athleticism, the 6-foot-6, 207-pounder is a force at the defensive end, with the ability to disrupt passing lanes. Hes also one of the NBAs most exciting dunkers, frequently producing highlight-reel slams on breakaways or in traffic. Iguodala is also one of the leagues most durable players. Through the first seven full seasons of his NBA career, the Arizona product had played in all 82 games five times.

76er on the rise
At just 21 years old, Jrue Holiday is a player to watch, a gifted ballhandler and shooter who blossomed in 2010-11, his second year as a pro. After receiving sporadic minutes early in his rookie campaign of 2009-10, Holiday was given the reins to the 76ers offense last season and never looked back. While starting in all 82 games, Holiday averaged an impressive 14.0 points, 6.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals. Current Hornets reserve Jason Smith a teammate of Holidays in 2009-10 calls the UCLA product one of the NBAs most underrated players.

On the sideline
To many younger basketball fans, Collins is perhaps best-known for his outstanding work as an NBA game analyst for the national broadcast network TNT. Fans from a previous generation probably recall Collins previous head-coaching stops in Chicago and Washington, where he led teams that featured Michael Jordan at two very different stages of Jordans playing career. If you go back even further, though, what many hoops aficionados may not realize is that Collins was an outstanding player himself a four-time NBA All-Star. Collins played for USA Basketball at the 1972 Olympics, where the American squad suffered a controversial gold-medal game defeat to the Soviet Union. In 1973, Collins was selected by Philadelphia as the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Did you know?
Philadelphia key reserve Thaddeus Young has New Orleans roots, having been born in the city in 1988. Although he attended high school in Memphis and starred in college at Georgia Tech, Young still spends time in Louisiana. Young has attended the Hornets-sponsored summer charity game in Baton Rouge that pits the Louisiana legislatures House against the Senate.

Players the 76ers want shooting free throws in a close game... If the 76ers need a three-pointer, three of their best options are...
Name Career FT percentage (through Dec. 29)
Tends to stay on perimeter but lethal at the foul line.
Third-year pro virtually ambidextrous on drives to rim.
Led team in attempts (356) last season despite bench role.
Name Career three-point percentage (through Dec. 29)
Once made 10 threes in a game for Kentucky in college.
Drilled 81 total treys in his 82 games played last season.
Started season hot by going 5-for-9 from beyond arc.

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