AI’s Return Proves to be the Perfect Ending for the 76ers

Allen Iverson's Return to Philly

The game Sixers fans have been waiting for has finally come and gone.  I had the pleasure of sitting in the lower level at the Wachovia Center directly across from the Denver bench for Allen Iverson’s return to Philly, as evidenced by the photograph above.  And the game was everything a fan could have hoped for.

This makes two perfect 76ers’ games in a row that I have attended.  We got a great high-scoring affair, some fantastic plays on both ends, a very good game from AI and most importantly the Sixers got another win.

Observations from the game

  • Sellout crowd (as if we expected anything less)20,674.  All the speculation leading up to tonight was whether or not Iverson would be well-received and be welcomed with a standing ovation during pre-game.  Come on, did anyone really think that wouldn’t happen?  We are talking about the most beloved 76er since Julius Erving.  Iverson said after the game “I dreamed it up a certain way, and it was better than that.”  And I concur, much respect given to the little man.
  • Andre Miller brought his A-game on his 32nd birthday.  Last game Miller dominated with his post game.  He did some more of that, but tonight he really displayed what I consider arguably the best mid-range game in the NBA.  Mixed with some swift ball-handling to get in position, Miller nailed jumper after jumper after jumper in that 15-17 foot range.  It was textbook and refreshing to watch.  Andre Miller’s line: 28 pts, 12 asts, 4 tos, on 13-21 shooting.
  • A.I. did his thing – but it was quiet greatness.  Sure he scored 32 points, had 8 dimes, only 2 turns and shot 54% from the floor.  But it wasn’t explosive, more like business as usual for the Answer.  He had one HUGE shot late in the 4th quarter when Denver was down 3; he nailed a much-contested three-pointer to even the score.  But that is where his heroics ended.  The most interesting thing I noticed about A.I was his competitiveness; he didn’t want to be shown up even once.  Every time a Sixers player would score or shake him, Iverson would come down court and go right at him.  Tonight he scored on nearly every possession after someone scored on him.  A little something I like to call “Right Back!”
  • In such an offensively dominated game (the Sixers had 9 uncontested dunks in the first half), the 76ers won on the defensive end.  And almost lost it at the free throw line shooting a disgraceful 54.5%.  You could see Mo Cheeks mimicking the foul shot motion in the 4th quarter when his guys were at the line, like he was trying to will it in for them.  Through three quarters the 76ers on average allowed 31 points per quarter.  Coach Cheeks got his team to slow the game down and as Mark Zumoff would say “Lock all windows and doors” only giving up 20 points in the final quarter.  The stellar defense reached his peak with the score tied at 110-110.  Sammy D. came through again with two huge blocks on Carmelo Anthony.
  • The final game note is about the fans.  The entire game the Philly fans were 100% supportive every time A.I. touched the ball, scored or made a great play.  They cheered loud and often. That is until with about 10-minutes left in the fourth quarter when the game got a little closer and it was clearly “winning time” for the home team.  At that point every time Iverson got the ball or scored you could hear boo’s, mixed in with significantly less cheering from the crowd.  This should answer the question of whether the majority of the spectators were Sixers fans who loved A.I. or strictly Iverson fans living in Philly.

At the end of the night, it was just another Sixers victory.  But this one puts the team at .500 since the 4th game of the season when we were 2-2. 

I caught myself watching the league-wide scoreboard during the game to see keep an eye on what Washington was doing.  Sadly, the Wizards won another game we all were hoping they would and should lose.  Still only a half game back I am confident the Sixers will get it done.  Move into the 6th seed by season’s end and set up the perfect match-up in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

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Take a Look Inside the Philadelphia 76ers’ Locker Room

According to the 76ers’ PR people the Sixers are the only NBA team that allows fans in their locker room. I don’t know if that is true or just PR propaganda to shed a positive and unique light on the team; either way it is pretty cool they let fans in there.

As you already know, Saturday I was at the San Antonio game. I went with my gf who got tickets through her college’s (Franklin & Marshall) Philadelphia alumni chapter. (The Sixers’ VP of Sales is an F&M alum.) They raffled off a chance to walk through the 76er locker room during the game. And with my luck, we won (16 in 120 chance). There was a downside though. The tour was during the entire 3rd quarter! Well, the die-hard fan that I am I decided I couldn’t miss an entire quarter so my gf went instead. Below are the great pictures she got during the tour. Enjoy.

NOTE: I had a picture of the 76ers’ whiteboard before the San Antonio Spurs victory on here when I first posted this article. After some thought and being contacted by the Sixers organization I decided to take it down. Why? As loyal fans of the Sixers we can’t have the team’s plays and strategies posted on the Internet for opponents to figure out how we are kicking their @$$es, now can we? Let’s go Sixers!

Andre Miller's Lockers
Above: Andre Miller’s two lockers. Count ’em, he has 30 boxes of sneakers.
Sixers' workout room
Above: Sixers’ workout room
Sixers' pre-game workout
Above: Sixers’ pre-game workout
Sixers Lockers
Above: Louis Williams – sportin’ the pink button-up (left), Thaddeus Young (middle), Willie Green (right)
Sixers Lockers
Above: Andre Iguodala (left), Louis Williams (middle), Thaddeus Young (right)
Center of the Sixers Locker Room
Above: This is the center of the 76ers’ locker room. The lockers shown above are located to the right.
Wilt Chamberlainimage and John Wooden Quote in Sixers Locker room
Above: Is the hallway outside the showers. The entire locker room and hallways are covered with similar images and quotes.
Charles Barkley image in the Sixers locker room
Above: This is part of a huge image of Charles Barkley in the locker room with a very famous quote all Philadelphia 76er fans should be familar with.
Charles Barkley Quote in the Sixers Locker room
Above: Continuation from the Barkley image above. This is one of his most famous quotes. Gotta love that the image is the Round Mound dunking against the hated Boston Celtics.
Maurice Cheeks office in the Sixers locker room
Above: Maurice Cheeks’s office in the locker room with the assistant coaches’ area in that back room. Is it just me or is this pretty low budget?

It’s March – Let the Madness Begin

March MadnessMost people associate March Madness with conference tournaments that start in a little over a week and the NCAA tournament.  But Saturday was the first day of March, and the madness really starts from day one of the month.

There were some great college basketball games and storylines from the first weekend in March to get the best month of basketball started with a bang.

Top 25 games decided by 6 points or less – 7 out of 21 games

Games & upsets that impact tournament positioning

  • #5 Texas falls to Texas Tech by 3 in the most exciting finish on Saturday.  The loss for Texas effectively killed their hopes of being a number 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
  • #14 Vandy slips up against Arkansas by 5.  The Chris Webber Timeout blunder rears its ugly head for another player in a pressured-filled end-game situation.  Forward Ross Neltner called a timeout the Commodores didn’t have with 7.3 seconds remaining, and Vandy only down one.  A technical foul was assessed and the miscue helped Arkansas hold on for a 78-73 victory.  I thought Vanderbilt was a “smart” school?  Either way Arkansas gains a strong win that will likely improve their seed in the tourney.  In the loss Vandy’s Shan Foster became the all-time leading scorer in school history.  I have targeted him as a 2nd round draft pick the Sixers should look to go after to address their lack of 3-point shooting after trading Korver.  He has NBA range and NBA size.  This time we would need to keep the Vandy player we get and not pull another Derrick Byars who I loved in college.
  • #10 Georgetown sneaks by (again) #21 Marquette 70-68 in a classic Big East battle that was decided in overtime.  The Hoyas and Jonathan Wallace benefited not from another horrendous call by the officials like the Villanova debacle but terrible defensive decision-making on the part of Dominick James.  Down three, Wallace brought the ball down the sideline all the way to the deep corner and prepared to hoist a desperation three to tie the game, and James thought it was a good idea to reach for the ball on the shot attempt, DUMB.  Another example why the team up by 3 should foul early and not give the other team a chance to even shoot a three or have something like a foul called on a contested three-point attempt.  This was the philosophy of my college coach, and I am not sure why more coaches don’t adopt this strategy.  James fouled Wallace who calmly nailed all three free throws with 2.8 seconds left.  Marquette couldn’t recover in OT and missed a golden opportunity for a big conference victory.
  • #24 Kent State goes down to sub .500 Bowling GreenKent State worked its way into the Top 25 for the first time in school history by winning 9 of their last 10 games.  This loss just goes to show how tough it is to win on the road in conference play, regardless if it’s a major conference like the SEC or a mid-major like the MAC.

Big-Time close calls by the ACC powerhouses

Coach K’s 800th win came in the form of a nail-biting, potential upset at the hands of N.C. State.  Sidney Lowe’s squad dominated Duke for about 33 minutes and had an 8-point lead with 5:03 left (81-63).  At this point I thought N.C. State needed to keep scoring and get at least 87 points not to lose the game in regulation.  Duke proceeded to go on a 14-5 run to end the game.  Final score – 87-86 in favor of Duke, and I felt like a prophet.

UNC overcame an 18-point deficit early in the second half and a truly remarkable individual performance from Tyrese Rice to stay at the top of the ACC with the Blue Devils.  Rice scored 34 points in the first half breaking his previous career high of 32.  He finished with 46 for the game, the 3rd highest mark hung on UNC ever and the 2nd most points scored by a Boston College player in school history.  UNC went on a 22-3 run over the next 8 minutes and 7 seconds to take a 62-61 lead, proving they can score points fast and in bunches.  At that point Roy William’s team had the game in full control.  With Tennessee losing 24-hours after being ranked number 1, the Tar Heels are in position to be the #1 ranked team in the country Monday.  They also remain as one of the 4 top seeds in most people’s tournament bracket. The stage is set for the best game of the season next Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Missed opportunities and bubbles bursting – Every year there are teams barely in the tournament, on the bubble or outside the bubble looking in.  They will all have some opportunities down the stretch against ranked opponents and conference-leading teams to help their cause in the eyes of the selection committee.  Here are some teams that blew a chance to solidify their spot in the tournament the first two days of March.

  • Villanova – I said in a previous post Nova needed a key victory against either Marquette or Louisville this week.  My feeling was the Marquette game at the Wachovia Center on Monday was the more favorable game for the Wildcats to win, and they couldn’t get it done.  Today Louisville out worked Nova on the boards, their full court pressure fatigued Nova’s shooters and the Cardinals simply had more talent so the game was never really close.  Now Nova will have to win their last two regular games against South Florida and Providence just to stay on the bubble.  Then I think they must win at least two Big East Tournament games to be considered for an at-large bid.   
  • Saint Joseph’s – In a must win game against Big Five-rival Temple, the Hawks lost by one at the Palestra, likely falling completely off the bubble, and are now on the outside looking in.  Luckily for them they still have Xavier at home on Thursday, and a win could put them back in contention.  Then they have the conference tournament in which they will need to, at worst, make it to the championship game to be considered for an at-large bid.  They control their own destiny if they can run the table and win it all.  Joe Lunardi currently has two A-10 teams in the tournament (Xavier and Umass) with the Hawks in consideration.  Temple is the only team to beat Xavier in conference; they have beaten Umass and Saint Joe’s.  If Temple wins their last two against Duquesne and La Salle, I think Temple throws themselves in the mix as well with a strong A-10 tournament run.
  • Arizona – Even with a mediocre record of 17-12 and only 7-9 in conference, Zona is probably in on the strength of their out-of-conference schedule and the strength of the Pac-10.  A win today against UCLA would have been the clincher.  They ended up losing by two but showed they have top flight talent and can compete with the best in the country.  But they can’t keep losing just because they are playing tough competition. 
  • Kentucky – Sweeping the season series against #1 Tennessee would have been a huge win for Kentucky, but they simply ran out of gas late.  With a 16-11 overall record and a strong 10-4 in conference the question remains: will key wins at home against Vandy and Tenn be enough to get them in?  Right now I think not.  And with Patrick Patterson done for the remainder of the season things look real bleak for the Wildcats from Kentucky. 
  • Kansas State – Michael Beasley found out quickly that talk is cheap, especially in team sports.  The 14-point loss to Kansas marks K State’s fourth loss in a row, meaning their bubble is on the verge of bursting right now.
  • Syracuse – Why is this team always on the bubble even though they consistently bring in very talented recruits?  The Big East is tough but the Cuse clearly has enough talent to do better than they have.  The loss to Pitt means they must run through the Big East tournament to get in.  And if they don’t win right now chances are they won’t win next season either if Donte Greene declares for the NBA after his freshman year.
  • Ohio State – 14-point loss to Minnesota = NIT for OSU

BONUS Madness: The Sixers beat Phoenix on the road – Looking at the schedule I am pretty sure most of us marked this down as a loss.  To my surprise, after getting home from seeing Vantage Point Saturday night, I find out the Sixers overachieved again.  Granted the Suns are still trying to figure it out after they traded for the Daddy, but that takes nothing away from this hard-fought win.  Andre Miller (25 pts, 12 ast, 3 stls, and only 2 turns) attacked Phoenix’s major weakness – Steve Nash’s defense.  Ultimately that is why the Suns probably have no chance in the West, not Shaq.  Having to go up against one or more of the best PGs in the game in Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Baron Davis, and now Jason Kidd makes Nash’s liability on defense even more apparent.  If Miller can go off on him what will those studs do come playoff time?

Biggest takeaways from that game are Maurice Cheeks’s ability to motivate and get these guys to play extremely hard on the second game of a back-to-back.  They are 11-1 in the second game of their last 12 back-to-back situations.  This is huge to me and shows why Mo deserved that extension.  The other, Andre Iguodala showed he can step up and take over a game in stretches against a good team.  The Sixers will need much more of that down the stretch.  And if he can consistently play that way come playoff time, maybe he can make a believer out me that his deserves a max contract.  Not yet though.

LOVE MARCH! The best basketball and my birthday, what more can I ask for.

Maurice Cheeks – Well-Deserved Contract Extension

Maurice CheeksThat’s right well-deserved

Maurice Cheeks received a 1-year contract extension, with an option for a 2nd year, that will finally put to bed the speculation he wouldn’t be back coaching the Sixers next season.  In the final year of his contract, the team playing sub .500 ball, and a new president & GM on board, many believed Cheeks would be on his way out or actively asking for him to be out like this guy

It was thought Ed Stefanski would want to bring in his own coach to lead the Sixers rebuilding effort, as it turns out that man is Mo.  Stefanski clearly recognized the positives Cheeks has brought to this young team and the value he has for the organization.   After the announcing the contract extension Stefanski had this to say about Cheeks,

“Since my arrival, I have been evaluating every aspect of the organization and I believe that Coach Cheeks deserves a great deal of credit for developing our players, putting them in a position to succeed and showing improvement every day.  Coach Cheeks has done a very good job of installing an up-tempo brand of basketball that puts this team in a position to succeed on a nightly basis and we are excited about the future under his direction.”

We, as fans, are quick to call for a coach’s head when our team struggles for an extended period of time.  More often than not the real source of the problem is a lack of overall talent and/or crapshoot collection of players that clearly don’t work well together.  These have been the true reasons our Sixers haven’t won more, even during the Allen Iverson era.

Cheeks has this relatively young team playing hard every night.  They have improved over the course of the season.  And you can clearly see the development in players such as Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams.  Is it just me, or has Samuel Dalembert been playing Maurice Cheekssmarter basketball and having one of his best seasons?  I attribute much of that largely to Mo. 

I think Stefanski expects to make significant moves this summer in free agency and the draft that will equip Maurice Cheeks with enough talent to compete at a much higher level.  This 1-year extension is essentially saying, “Mo you have done a great job with what you had to work with.  Now it’s time for you take the next step and lead a more talented Sixers team against the big boys in the Eastern Conference next year.” A try-out if you will.

If the team vastly improves their record next season, I see a long-term deal in Maurice Cheek’s future.  And I am rooting for just that.  Who else would you want to be the face of the current Sixers franchise then a well-respected and loved Sixers great from the past?