The 76ers are still in first place in the Atlantic Division. Their 20-11 record (entering Sunday night’s game at Minnesota) is better than anyone expected. But some cracks in the Sixers’ engine are starting to develop.
The engine light is on. The question is whether the light represents a minor problem or the need for major repairs.
Surprisingly, one of the Sixers’ problem areas lately has been at point guard. This was the season that Jrue Holiday was supposed to develop into a star. To put it mildly, that hasn’t happened.
Holiday hasn’t been bad. He’s second on the team in scoring (13.4 points per game). But he has struggled defensively against the better point guards. In fact, lately he’s struggled against almost everyone.
Holiday was held to single digits in scoring just once during the Sixers’ first 20 games. During the Sixers’ last 11 games entering Sunday’s game against the Timberwolves, he had failed to reach double figures five times. It has been 10 games since Holiday shot better than 50 percent in a game.
The statistics are getting worse. Holiday has scored in single digits in three of the Sixers’ past five games. During their consecutive losses to the Magic and Mavericks, Holiday was a combined 1 for 17 from the field, scoring three points in each of those defeats.
Nobody should have expected Holiday to be as good as the Spurs’ Tony Parker or the Clippers’ Chris Paul. But many expected Holiday, in his third NBA season, to take the next step up and be among the league’s better point guards, if not at the top of the list. He’s not there yet. If anything, he has regressed during February.
Before the season I wrote that in order for the Sixers to become a contender, Holiday must supplant Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand as the team’s best player. I still believe that’s true. I’m not, however, quite as confident that Holiday will raise his game enough for us to judge the accuracy of that statement.
U-TURN: Another player whose play has regressed after a fast start is Evan Turner. The second-year guard has scored in double figures just once in 10 February games. Not coincidentally, that game was one of only two times in February in which Turner made more than half his shots from the field.
After playing 22-29 minutes in 12 straight games, Turner has played fewer than 20 minutes in three of the Sixers’ past six games. That’s an indication that head coach Doug Collins isn’t thrilled with Turner’s play, either. At some point, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NBA draft needs to take minutes away from Jodie Meeks or else we’ll start to hear the word “bust” whispered.
24! Did the Sixers really only score 24 points during the second half of Friday’s loss to the Mavericks? Mediocre high school teams usually score 24 points in a half – and they play 8-minute quarters!
HAWES UPDATE: Spencer Hawes is wearing a protective boot on his left foot and ankle. The longer his problems with his left Achilles’ tendon persist, the more it seems possible that he won’t fully recover while playing the condensed schedule this season.
The Sixers have been a much better team with Hawes in the lineup. He’s a good passer, has rebounded the ball well this season and was a greater inside presence than in the past. If he isn’t able to return at full strength this season, his absence will hurt the Sixers.
TROUBLE AT HOME: The Sixers were nearly unbeatable at home in January. But they’ve lost three in a row at home, losing to the Spurs, Clippers and Mavericks.
The home schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Sixers. Next up is Oklahoma City on Feb. 29.
ROAD WARRIORS: The Sixers encounter yet another crucial week as they play at Minnesota, Memphis and Houston during the first half of this week before breaking the All-Star Game. They certainly don’t want to enter the break on a bad note, so this week’s games are very important.
LINSANITY: Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks – who would have imagined anyone would refer to the Knicks in that manner? – come to Wells Fargo Center on Wed., March 21. Spurred by Lin’s unlikely success, the Knicks enter Sunday evening just a half-game behind the second-place Celtics in the Atlantic Division. When Carmelo Anthony returns from injury, I wonder how he will feel about someone else being the biggest star on the team.
HANG 10: Don’t look now, but San Antonio has won 10 straight games. I guess all those rumors about the Spurs being too old were a bit premature.
MID-TERM REPORT: Keep an eye out for the Sixers’ mid-term grades, which I will post on phillyphanatics.com later this week.