PHOENIX - In Monday's 110-95 loss at Golden State, the Sixers tried to run with legs that appeared about as strong as wet noodles, which is not a very good thing when you're playing against an explosive, fast offensive team like the Warriors.
The reasons for the rubbery legs were quite simple. The team had 2 days off before getting back together for a Christmas night practice in Denver. They got a hard-fought win the next night against the Nuggets, then faced Golden State with a shorthanded crew, as Lou Williams was in Philadelphia for the birth of his first child and Andre Iguodala pulled up lame just before the game with recurring tendinitis in his right Achilles'. Also, swingman Jason Kapono was unavailable after hurting a calf muscle during the Christmas practice.
Two players who showed no signs of the fatigue were guard Jrue Holiday and forward Elton Brand. Understandably, Holiday was fresh, as he is only 20. Brand put together his second straight impressive performance, collecting 16 points and 16 rebounds against the Warriors, a night after going for 16 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks against the Nuggets. At times against Golden State, Brand, 31, looked a little like Moses Malone, grabbing his own misses with regularity before finally finishing off the play.
Brand's play this season has been one of the constants for coach Doug Collins. Brand is not surprised about averaging 15.1 points and nine rebounds or in his ability to play well on back-to-back nights in the middle of a draining, eight-game road trip.
"Coach has done a great job of having us pay attention to detail, of giving us time off," Brand said. "We had a great, hard practice when we came back from the break and we practiced for 2 hours and got our lungs back and our legs back."
A new offseason workout and a healthier body have helped Brand get back to the form he expects.
"I think I was prepared to do this last year, also, if given the minutes and the time," he said. "I definitely worked hard this summer to be available for the team, and I felt I could have played more minutes [Monday]. I wanted to play more minutes, but the game started to get away from us a little bit. He can play me back-to-back 40 minutes."
Holiday has played well the past three games, in which he's scored 20 points a game and totaled 19 assists. That came on the heels of a three-game stretch when he was pretty bad, missing 26 of 34 shots and scoring 20 points total. He also totaled 11 assists and eight turnovers. Those ups and downs are to be expected from such a young point guard.
The reasoning for his better play is pretty simple, he said.
"I'm being more aggressive," Holiday said. And very good results have followed.
He still has some lapses that cause Collins to bury his head in his hands on the bench - such as when Holiday will attempt a crosscourt, one-handed bounce pass or when he mindlessly throws a simple pass at a teammates' feet - but there also are hopeful signs.
What Holiday has learned to do in his short stint as a starting NBA point guard is how to shift his pace and slow down the game. Rarely can point guards run 100 mph for the full time they are in a game. The great ones change their pace to keep defenders on their heels. Holiday is starting to do that very well.
The team was off yesterday in Phoenix . . . Andre Iguodala is still listed as day-to-day . . . Lou Williams was expected to be with the team in time for tonight's game . . . After tonight, the Sixers will play the Lakers in Los Angeles on New Year's Eve before finishing out the road trip Monday in New Orleans. *
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