THE SEASON has taken a turn.
When Doug Collins was hired as coach in May, he talked of how the main focus of his job was to evaluate and build a winning attitude.
Talk of playoffs or a winning record really wasn't even close to being on the radar. And after a 3-13 start, you could understand why. But times have changed. Since those first 16 games, the Sixers have gone 21-15. Since those first 16 games, Collins has figured out what he has and how to play best with that group. He is a master of creating mismatches on the floor, of getting the most out of his vets and teaching his young players.
And because of it, the Sixers find themselves not only in a playoff spot but also jockeying for a possible sixth seed. Making it to the postseason should no longer be the goal; actually getting beyond the first round might be reality.
Certainly, it's way, way too early to even be thinking about such things, but that's what we like to do.
The seventh seed certainly doesn't seem to be a desirable spot entering the playoffs, with Boston and Miami no doubt battling for that top spot the rest of the way. But if the Sixers can climb over the New York Knicks and get to the sixth seed, you might be looking at an opening round against the likes of Chicago or Atlanta or Orlando. That first round doesn't seem quite so scary, does it?
But many, many things have to happen over the next 30 games, so let's take a look at what they are:
* Get Jrue Holiday back to playing the way he was a couple of weeks ago.
The proverbial wall and Holiday have met, head-on. Physically, Holiday says he's feeling fine and that his body is not feeling the rigors of his most physically demanding season, in which he is averaging 34.8 minutes, compared to 24.2 as a rookie. There is no reason to doubt him. Holiday still looks as fresh as he did on Day 1 - at practice, shootarounds and games.
Holiday, right now, is struggling with the mental aspect of the game. Remember, he is in his first full season as a starting point guard - and still only 20 years old. He has gone through a dismal season that included 55 losses, a coach's firing, a coach's hiring, a whole new system and the pressure that comes with running the show.
Even though he is participating in the Rookie-Sophomore game at All-Star Weekend, the game is in his hometown of Los Angeles, he will be surrounded by family and friends and he will certainly benefit from time away from teammates and coaches.
* Get more production from the deeper bench players.
Thirty games is an awfully long grind. Throwing out the same eight to try to win as many games as possible is just too grueling a task on those players. It would be awfully helpful if Collins could rely on the likes of Marreese Speights, Andres Nocioni and maybe even Darius Songaila once in a while.
* Have Andre Iguodala perform the way he has been the past couple of weeks.
Since Collins said he wanted Iguodala to be his "point forward" and labeled him a "triple-double player," Iguodala has been terrific.
Fans never will warm to his on-court body language, and that's understandable. But if you can just watch his playing, and absorb all the different things he does for the team, you will see why he makes the Sixers much better.
No doubt, the way he's played has upper management scratching its collective head about what to do with Iguodala. Do you trade him to get something of equal value just for the sake of unloading him, or do you stick with him for the rest of the year and see how far he can help take the team in the playoffs? That is why those guys with the offices in the higher parts of the building get paid a lot of money.
* Keep getting the production off the bench from Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young.
Quite simply, this season would be nowhere near as promising without these two. Young has been a matchup problem all year for opposing coaches due to his size, speed and strength. Bigger, stronger teams are a problem for Young, but there aren't too many of them in the East. He will be a real asset come playoff time.
Williams is the perfect bench player for any team, but particularly this one. With a roster that has no real go-to guy when a basket is needed, Williams is the closest thing the Sixers have. He has a great ability to get to the basket, and an uncanny knack for being able to score after contact, and get to the foul line with regularity.
* Get a little more production from starting center Spencer Hawes.
If you're looking for Hawes to be a 10-point, 10-rebound guy, that just isn't going to happen this year. But if he can provide some scoring punch, average about a half a rebound per minute played and supply some defense, the team is much better off. Staying out of foul trouble is also a key. Having Elton Brand man the middle for short stretches is fine, but having him do it for long stretches is tough.
* Take advantage of the schedule after the All-Star Game. Seven of the first nine games after the break will be at the Wells Fargo Center, and the two away games are at Cleveland and Indiana.
All seems quiet on the trading front as it pertains to the Sixers with the Feb. 24 deadline approaches.
Certainly, teams have inquired about Andre Iguodala, but several factors come into play as far as moving him. One is how well he is playing right now, another is what the team would get in return, and then there is always the problem of the league not having a collective bargaining agreement in place for next season.
I've said since the beginning of the season that I thought Iguodala would be moved. Now, I'm not so sure. If the Sixers do make a move, it probably would be minor.
Rookie Evan Turner was limited to under 13 minutes in Wednesday's loss to Orlando due to what was called a muscle spasm.
Yesterday, Doug Collins explained the injury further.
"The rib kind of popped out of place," Collins said. "When it does, it throws your back into spasm. It is nothing structurally down where you would have pain in your legs and all that kind of stuff. We expected him to be very sore because they popped that thing back in."
In the locker room after Wednesday's game, Turner said that he'd be ready to go tonight when the team hosts San Antonio. Collins reiterated yesterday that Turner expected to be ready.
Tonight vs. San Antonio Spurs, 7 o'clock
Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)
The skinny: The Spurs will be playing their sixth of nine straight road games while the rodeo hits the AT&T Center. The best team in the NBA at 44-8, the Spurs have won four of the five road games. Looking for a glimmer of hope? They are just 4-3 on the road against the Eastern Conference.
Tomorrow at Minnesota Timberwolves, 8 o'clock
Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)
The skinny: Just how woeful has the Wolves' season been so far? Tonight, in Indiana, Minnesota (13-39) goes for its third straight win. If it happens, it would be the first three-game winning streak this season, and the Wolves have won two in a row just twice before. Still, they do possess double-double maker Kevin Love, though they could be missing Michael Beasley to a sprained ankle.
Tuesday at Memphis Grizzlies, 8 o'clock
Comcast Network/WPHT (1210-AM)
The skinny: Raise your hand if you knew one of the four players in the NBA to be averaging 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds is the Grizzlies' Zach Randolph. Believe it. But the Grizzlies are a bit shorthanded with the league suspension of O.J. Mayo, and now Rudy Gay has been sidelined with a sprained right big toe.
Wednesday at Houston Rockets, 8:30 p.m.
Comcast Network/WIP (610-AM)
The skinny: The Rockets are just 3-10 at home when the visitors score 100 points or more. Center Chuck Hayes has been playing well, scoring in double figures in the past four games and posting three double-doubles during that time.
BY THE NUMBERS:
19.3: Number of foul shots Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard has averaged against the Sixers in three games this season. He has gone 34-for-58 (58.6 percent).
7.13: That was Andre Iguodala's assist-to-turnover ratio to one in the seven games before Wednesday's loss to Orlando. In those seven games, Iguodala had 57 assists and eight turnovers. Wednesday, he had eight assists but five turnovers.
3-10: That's the Sixers' record in games decided by four points or less.