RESILIENT. IT'S the one word that 76ers coach Doug Collins has used more than any other this season when describing his young team.
Hell knows they've had more than a few opportunities this season to show their resiliency, most recently last night against the Denver Nuggets. Of the bizarre losses the Sixers have suffered this season - and there have been many - Friday night's against Memphis was the zaniest when they blew a 21-point lead with 15 minutes remaining.
Collins said before the game that he expected his group to bounce back once again, and put the Memphis loss out to the curb.
Then the Nuggets started dropping threes the way Tiger Woods used to drop pressure putts. While Denver deposited its first seven treys on its way to a nine-point lead in the first quarter, it didn't seem that "resilient" was going to be a word used by Collins in his postgame press conference.
But despite the Nuggets' three-point barrage in the first quarter and despite the humiliating loss on Friday, the Sixers bounced back in a big way at the Wells Fargo Center last night, fighting their way to a workmanlike, 110-99 win and improving to 21-26.
"The team I've known I've had all year showed up once again today and that's a team that's incredibly resilient, professional, hard-working, competitive and one that really cares," Collins said.
"When we lose it's not because we don't want to make the effort to win, we just can't get it done. But it's not because the guys in that locker room don't want to do it every single night."
Collins has been searching for vocal leaders all season, so as to take some of the burden off himself and the assistant coaches. There is not a player on the team who is accustomed to doing that, but after Friday's loss Andre Iguodala spoke up. He said the team needed more focus, basically that the players needed to take practices more seriously.
Iguodala talked the talk, and last night walked the walk.
Usually at his best when his one-on-one matchup is the featured bout, Iguodala turned in a knockout performance with 24 points, seven assists and four steals. More importantly, he limited Nuggets superstar Carmelo Anthony to 12 points on 3-for-12 shooting, forced him into six turnovers and limited him to just three rebounds, tying a season low.
For all the search committees Sixers fans have formed trying to get the right trade done for Iguodala, last night offered an argument for keeping him here. He seems to have started embracing the role of a veteran leader a little more, both on and off the court.
"Coach does a great job of stopping that [bad thoughts from Friday]," Iguodala said. "They made [seven] threes and we were still within two [34-32]. I said to Jrue [Holiday], 'Chauncey [Billups] is making tough shots. You can't waver.' He was playing good defense on him. The message I was saying to the guys was that on defense we have principles, keep them out of the paint and every shot they made happened to be outside the paint. They just happened to knock them down."
The Sixers were OK with Denver's long-range drill. Well, not OK that the Nuggets were hitting nearly everything, but the game plan was to keep the visitors out of the paint. And, of course, to limit Anthony.
Iguodala took care of that, again, in a big-time matchup.
"I think that when you are a guy who has to play those kinds of people, you know that if you don't those guys are capable of throwing up huge nights," Collins said. "Andre is a very proud guy. Some of his best defensive efforts all season long have been against some of the best guys in the NBA.
"Kobe [Bryant] came in here and I think he was 3-for-11. Carmelo 3-for-12. He was brilliant."
And when Iguodala is so good defensively, oftentimes he and his teammates prosper at the offensive end.
Six Sixers, including Iguodala, hit double figures. Thaddeus Young came off the bench for 21. Elton Brand scored 15, missing just one of his seven shots, and Jodie Meeks added 12. Lou Williams (12) and Evan Turner (11) also played a big hand in the bench contribution, scoring 46 points.
Billups, who scored 16 points in the first quarter, led the Nuggets with 27, while reserve J.R. Smith chipped in 23. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for Denver, which dropped to 28-19.
"They really played hard," Billups said. "I really like coach Collins. He's doing a great job with that young talent over there. They play hard, they're very athletic and they like to run up and down the floor. We couldn't get away from them and when they got going, we couldn't catch back up."
Something Memphis had little trouble doing Friday. Something Collins was sure his team wouldn't let happen again. Something Iguodala made sure of.
"[Saturday] at practice, he stopped and talked to us about approaching the shootaround more seriously, doing the little things and paying attention to the little things that can help us win games," said Turner, who also had eight rebounds, six assists and no turnovers. "He came out with leadership. He just pretty much practiced what he preached. He did a great job and he really had some hustle plays tonight."
The Sixers finished January with an 8-6 record after going 8-7 in December. It was their first consecutive winning months since February and March in 2008 . . . The Nuggets averaged 116.2 points their previous 10 games . . . Andre Iguodala scored 10 points in the first quarter, the 13th time a Sixer has scored in double figures in the opening 12 minutes and the first time he has done so . . . The Sixers travel to New Jersey on Wednesday, then have a home-and-home matchup with the Knicks on Friday and Sunday.
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