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Short schedule will test 76ers

They open with a five-game West Coast swing in the 66-game slate released Tuesday.

Coach Doug Collins will start his second season with the Sixers on a five-game road stretch. (Steven M. Falk/Staff file photo)
Coach Doug Collins will start his second season with the Sixers on a five-game road stretch. (Steven M. Falk/Staff file photo)Read more

The 76ers will be home for Christmas but not for the rest of the holidays at the start of the 2011-12 regular season.

After a work stoppage that forced the NBA to shorten its season from 82 games to 66, the league released team schedules Tuesday night. The Sixers, who have struggled to get out of the gate in the last two seasons, will start their campaign with a five-game Western Conference trip before their home opener Jan. 6.

Their season begins Dec. 26 with a game at Portland. The Sixers, who went 41-41 last season and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Miami, then will play at Phoenix, Utah, Golden State, and New Orleans. They open their home schedule Friday, Jan. 6, against Detroit.

The stretch represents the longest road trip to start the season in franchise history, eclipsing the previous high of three road games to start the 1971-72 and 1999-2000 seasons.

The upcoming season will relent a bit in January, when the Sixers will play 13 home games. In fact, over a 36-day span from Jan. 6 to Feb. 10, the Sixers will play 18 of 22 games at home, which is well over half of their entire home slate.

Getting off to a good start for the Sixers will be crucial. Last year, after getting off to a 3-13 start, the Sixers, under first-year coach Doug Collins, righted things, went 38-28 the rest of the way, and reached the playoffs.

The year before, in a desultory season that saw them finish 27-55, the Sixers started 5-18.

While the early stretch of the schedule is indeed brutal, the Sixers will be tested most toward the schedule's end, when teams are fighting for playoff seeding. The Sixers close the season by playing five road games in a row. That is part of an unforgiving schedule that has them playing nine of their final 11 games on the road.

The entire league will catch somewhat of a break compared to the 50-game season of 1998-99. Unlike this labor stoppage, in 1998 the league did not reach a labor accord until Jan. 20, 1999. As a result, in order to get the season in, teams were forced to play multiple sets of games that featured three contests in a row.

This time the Sixers will play just one such stretch of games like that, late in the season, when they face Orlando, Indiana, and Cleveland on April 16, 17, and 18. On more than one occasion the Sixers will play four games in five nights.

Sixers guard Jrue Holiday, who took his team physical on Tuesday, was at the team's practice facility, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. While the schedule had yet to be released during the afternoon, Holiday discussed the advantage the team's youth may play in the condensed schedule.

"Even though you are young, it still wears on you," said Holiday, a two-year vet who turned 21 over the summer. "But we have a lot of workers. I think we are going to come into training camp ready and prepared. It's going to be tough. The thing is, you don't really get into basketball shape until you are playing basketball. We have been doing a lot of conditioning."

Teams are scheduled to open training camps this Friday.

"I'm excited, and I'm ready to go," Holiday said. "I left sunny California to be here. I feel good. I'm ready."

The starting backcourt. Sixers swingman Andre Iguodala drove overnight from Chicago and arrived in Philly early Monday morning. Since, he's been working out with his teammates at the team's practice facility.

The players who are in town played pickup on Tuesday night at PCOM.

Iguodala has been running on the track in the mornings, lifting weights, working out, and playing.

"I'm pretty excited to be back," Iguodala said. "Especially because of the long layoff."

Iguodala said it's possible that Sixers coach Doug Collins will use a starting backcourt of Holiday, Iguodala, and shooting guard Evan Turner.

Iguodala said those three would be a dynamic defensive backcourt, calling Turner an "underrated defender."

"I'm not worried about Evan," Iguodala explained. "He can play basketball. I just don't think he had any confidence last year. I think even my confidence last year - with injuries and not being able to get in the good groove - struggled. You have to play with the ultimate swagger. I think he will be fine. He's actually a good shooter inside the three-point line."

Dominoes. Sixers president Rod Thorn said that until the blockbuster moves are made for New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul and Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard - whether that's re-signing with their own team or being traded to another - the decision-making of many NBA teams will be put on hold.

Thorn likened Paul and Howard to "dominoes" falling: Once their fates are sealed, every team can move onto the next option.

For the Sixers, the primary matter is still the contract of restricted free agent Thaddeus Young. Secondary is the contract for restricted free agent Spencer Hawes.

"What you have to do from our standpoint is - well, you know what you're going to do," Thorn said. "In talking about Thad, if we get an offer sheet on him, if it's something reasonable, we'll match it. We're also talking to Spencer's agent."