By Justin Diaz
Last night marked the beginning of the most anticipated Sixers season in years. A competitive series with the Heat and the complete ownership overhaul have grabbed Philly's attention. This team is poised to become a serious threat in an Eastern Conference that, beyond the Heat and Bulls, seems wide open. There are many things to take from the pre-season tilt with the Wizards, but these are the Sixers Six.
1. Familiarity breeds Success
From the jump until the final whistle, it was clear that the Sixers had chemistry that the Wizards lacked. Fluid passes led to open shots, and solid defensive rotation made Washington's offense look very stiff. The veteran nature of the team and the lack of roster turnover caused this. Many people believe the Sixers will stumble out of the gate with their six-game West Coast trip, but with abbreviated training camps the teams which have stayed in tact are the ones who will surge early. This benefits the Sixers; while other teams will look to gel, the Sixers have already done so and should be able to steal a few games early.
2. Bench Play is Key
With 66 games jammed into four months, it will be difficult for teams to work their stars for many minutes. Conversely, teams which can go deep into their benches with little or no drop off will shine. This also plays in the Sixers favor. When Thad, Lou Will, ET, Vucevic and the like came on, they did not miss a beat. In fact the Sixers began to dominate play once the benches came on the floor. This advantage will be key later on in the season and into the playoffs (playoffs?! yes, playoffs), because everybody will be fresh while the nagging injuries and fatigue begin to set in for more star-heavy teams.
When Sixers fans heard that maligned center Spencer Hawes had put in off-season work with Shawn Kemp, we had hoped he would have learned something about physical play. While Hawes did seem slightly better defensively, his conditioning was noticeably improved and it showed in his game. Hawes looked extremely quick in the post, knocking down hook shots and getting open jumpers. It is not the conventional play you want from a center, but it is much better than what we got last season. If Hawes puts up 12 points and 9 boards a night, I'll be happy and Sixers fans will be happy.
4. The Magee Effect
Evan Turner's work in the gym this summer with Herb Magee was well-covered by the media in Philly. When news came that Jodie Meeks had once again won the starting two spot, people thought the lessons must not have paid off. People thought wrong. Even early on when ET was missing his jumpers, his form was significantly improved, bringing the ball down more and bringing in his elbow. While he was short with his shots, he was consistently short, showing that it was the same shot each time and simply took the minor judgment correction of putting more on it. He made that fix later in the game and the shots began to fall. His behind-the-back crossover on John Wall into a ten-foot jumper was one of the prettiest plays of the night, and if he can bring that shot night in and night out he will play his way into the starting lineup in no time.
5. The Jruth
I can't say enough about Jrue Holiday. He was the best player on the floor and it wasn't even close. He made John Wall look foolish on multiple occasions, showing an extremely quick first step and a much-improved jump shot. His decisions with the ball were prompt and precise, and his defense was lockdown. People want the Sixers to go out and get a superstar, but they already have one and he wears number 11. I am so extremely excited to see Holiday's growth this season because while he's already good, he is only going to get better. This is the year he makes an All-Star game and it will be well deserved.
6. Brackins' Breakthrough?
He was only on the floor for about ten minutes, surpassing only Lavoy Allen and Xavier Silas in playing time, but Craig Brackins looked very impressive in his short stint. The big man showed an ability to knock down an open shot, draining two threes in his time on the court. He also showed a good defensive presence in the post, with solid positioning and boxing out. These are small things, but the small things get noticed when you have a coach like Doug Collins. Look for Brackins to become a consistent part of the bench rotation this season; if he does, it's just one more weapon the team can bring in and it will only make the team that much fresher come playoff time.
The bottom line from Friday night is this; yes, it was only the pre-season, but the Sixers look to be in mid-season form. It was a beauty to behold, and if they play like that when the games count this team is going places.