It was a simple question posed to 76ers coach Eddie Jordan following Friday's 98-86 win over the Sacramento Kings, in which the Sixers limited the Kings to 37 percent shooting and held an opponent under 100 points for the fourth straight game.
Jordan was asked if he could pinpoint why his team has been playing so much better defensively, a big part of the reason they've won three of four. The coach hesitated in his answer, partially because he let out a little giggle.
Perhaps he did so because he is so happy about his team's recent performance on the defensive end. Perhaps he was joyful in that he seems to have found the right people on this team to do what is needed to make stops at the right times.
Simply put, Jordan has stopped trying to mesh 12 players into a 48-minute game and has shortened his rotation considerably. The one most affected is sub forward/center Marreese Speights.
Speights, in his second year out of Florida, might be the team's best scoring threat. He is also a serious defensive liability. Play him 20-plus minutes, and he'll give the team double-figure scoring almost every time. But his offensive production is almost negated by his inability to help and recover on defense or get to the right spot on pick-and-rolls when he has to rotate.
It appears that is the reason his minutes have diminished considerably lately. His 16 minutes on Friday were the most he's played in seven games.
Last Wednesday's 93-92 loss against the New York Knicks was a prime example. Speights got off the bench for only 9 minutes, all in the fourth quarter. During that limited time he contributed 10 points and six rebounds. And when the team had a chance to win the game on its final possession, he was the first offensive option.
"You are our secret weapon, man," chided center Samuel Dalembert to Speights in the locker room recently. "You come in for a little bit of time, but you score big."
But in that Knicks game, Speights also failed twice to get where he needed to be defensively, and the Knicks scored two big baskets that heavily contributed to the win.
On the upside, there is Speights' incredible offensive abilities. The 22-year-old is a flat-out scorer with an ability to hit mid-range jumpers, post up and drive hard to the basket. Also, due to his youth, he can become a much better defensive player as he continues to learn the NBA game.
The more obvious reason for the Sixers' defensive improvement (and Speights' diminished playing time) is the play of center Dalembert, who has pulled down an average of 14.3 rebounds his last six games, including 21 in that Knicks game and 20 earlier this month against Washington. He is scoring more frequently, blocking and altering shots and has become a key to the team's turnaround.
Until that changes, Speights can expect his playing time to be limited.
Allen Iverson missed yesterday's practice with a stomach virus. He was on the team plane in the afternoon to fly to Minnesota for today's 3:30 p.m. game against the Timberwolves, but he will be a game-time decision.
Fellow guard Willie Green's minutes were limited in Friday night's win due to a sinus infection. Green played just 5 minutes and hit a three-pointer, but was bothered enough that Jordan didn't want to use him more.
Forward Andre Iguodala had an X-ray on his right ankle during Friday's game, but they were negative, and Iguodala, though hobbling slightly, returned. He seems to be fine now.
Stefanski family reunion
General manager Ed Stefanski and his oldest son, Ed Jr., traveled out to Minnesota on Saturday to catch up with another Stefanski son. Kevin Stefanski, 27, is an offensive quality-control assistant on the Minnesota Vikings staff under Brad Childress. Kevin played collegiately at Penn, his father's alma mater.
"Once the [football] season starts, he is pretty much working all the time, so it's hard to get to see or talk to him," Stefanski said. "Those guys put in some serious hours."
Stefanski attended the Cowboys-Vikings game yesterday.
On the Wolves
After missing the first 18 games of the season with a broken hand, second-year forward Kevin Love, from UCLA, has recorded 17 double-doubles in 23 games. For the season, the 6-10 Love is averaging 15.2 points and 12.3 rebounds.
First-year coach Kurt Rambis' team has struggled mightily, winning just eight of its 41 games. But there is reason for optimism. The Wolves are painfully young with Love, rookie guard Jonny Flynn (13.9 points) and third-year forward Corey Brewer (12.6 points) getting many minutes.
Episcopal Academy's Wayne Ellington, in his first season out of North Carolina, is averaging 6.3 points in 18 minutes a game. He has scored 17 points in each of the past two games, career highs.
The Sixers return home to host Andre Miller and the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night at the Wachovia Center.