NEWARK, N.J. - In the past two games, the Sixers have held their opponents to an average of 73.5 points and 32.2 percent shooting (52-for-161).
That can mask a whole lot of shortcomings. In Sunday's win over the hapless New Orleans Hornets, it didn't have to. Against the New Jersey Nets last night at the Prudential Center, it covered what was an overall lackluster effort.
Still, the Sixers found a way to do just a few more good things - or fewer bad things - than the Nets and pulled out their sixth win in eight games, 82-77. It was the eighth straight loss for New Jersey.
"This is one of those wins we want to forget about, really," said swingman Andre Iguodala, who finished with just eight points. "It's like a bad loss. It goes in the win column, but neither team played good. A win is a win and we'll take it, but I don't think we can be happy."
It certainly beats the alternative, which is losing a game that is very winnable, something the Sixers have done repeatedly this season. The win came despite one of their coldest shooting stretches of the season, and another shaky ending.
Making eight of their first 11 shots to open the game, the Sixers (9-15) bolted to a 21-11 lead midway through the first quarter. Over the next 11 minutes and 47 seconds, the Sixers made just three of 18 from the floor, but they still managed to lead by 40-34 at halftime.
Though they led for the whole second half, and by as many as 11 with 4:23 to play, the Sixers almost fell into that familiar habit of blowing late leads.
After an Iguodala turnover against a press, the Nets' Travis Outlaw drained a three to clip the lead to 78-75 with 34.6 seconds remaining. But unlike earlier in the season, the Sixers regrouped and Iguodala and Jodie Meeks (12 points) each drained a pair of foul shots down the stretch to secure the gruesome win.
"We did just enough to win the game," said coach Doug Collins. "I told the guys we got the win, but . . . I told them to inbound the ball [late in the game] and use the 24 seconds and we tried to throw a pass under the basket. Then we turned the ball over, then we turned the ball over against the press. You can't do that. I have to teach more in winning than in losing. We have to do a better job of finishing the game. We got the win, which is the most important thing."
After recent heartbreaking losses to good teams such as the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics, many in the Sixers' locker room talked of playing up to the competition. They did exactly the opposite last night, but the combination of the Sixers knowing how to win a little better and the Nets now in a free fall secured the win.
Another key factor was the play of center Spencer Hawes. Though saddled most of the evening with foul issues, Hawes went off for a season-high 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting, most coming from long range. He hit two three-pointers, and also dealt four assists. It was a conscious effort on his part to pull Nets center Brook Lopez (team-high 16 points) away from the basket and defend the perimeter.
"Any time you're playing against a guy like that, you have to put pressure on him down at the other end and try to use your strengths to exploit weaknesses," said Hawes, who is in much better shape now than he was at the beginning of the season.
"For me, it's being in a rhythm and being confident. Everybody knows how important that is to an athlete in this game. We're playing well as a team."
Jrue Holiday led the Sixers with 19 points, and Elton Brand had 15.
No question the team is playing better. But that one area of concern, finishing out games, is still a major blemish.
"It's a step forward to finish the game," Brand said, "but against better teams we may have folded."
True. But when teams shoot as poorly as they have against the Sixers the past two games, it's pretty hard to throw one away.
Interesting encounter in the second quarter when Nets forward Derrick Favors blocked a jump shot by Evan Turner into the second row. No. 2 pick, meet No. 3 pick . . . Craig Brackins and Jason Kapono were deactivated . . . Nets guard Anthony Morrow was scratched from the starting lineup just as the players were taking the court for the start of the game. Morrow, who had started every game before last night, limped off the court after warmups with a strained right hamstring. He returned and played 14 seconds in the first quarter before injuring it again and was done for the night.
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