OAKLAND - The 76ers are entrenched in the hardest stretch of their schedule, the eight-game road streak that has them mostly spending time on the West Coast. There are some positive signs and some negatives, hopes (mainly that Andrew Bynum will one day be on the court and producing numbers fans and front office anticipated) and frustrations.
So what is there to look for from the Sixers in the final 3-plus months of the season? Well, probably most of it hinges on whether Bynum returns in some state of good health for a reasonable amount of time. If he comes back for 25 games and plays the way he did last season, the front office has a ton of decisions to make, mainly whether to sign him to a contract extension. Or if he doesn't return at all, then what?
Either way, many players on this team are showcasing themselves for next season. Will the Sixers keep Nick Young and/or Dorell Wright? Will they again try to make a huge offseason acquisition or just tinker with what they have? Will they make the playoffs as a lower seed and hope to win a round (once again)?
The next few months should go a long way to answering some of these questions.
Sign of maturity
After the Sixers defeated the Grizzlies, 99-89, in Memphis on Wednesday, Evan Turner sat at his locker, dismayed both at scoring only one point and getting only four shots. When reminded that Memphis' Tony Allen is one of the NBA's best defenders, Turner quickly retorted, "He didn't prevent me from taking only four shots."
His locker neighbor, Jrue Holiday, kept saying it was his fault for not getting Turner the ball more. The whole banter was sort of funny, and Turner did say numerous times that the win was more important than his offensive output (he still had nine assists and six rebounds). Turner was being honest, but he also made sure that his point got across - that he needs to be looked for more.
It is a sign of how far Turner has come. In his first two seasons, Turner wouldn't have let it be known that he wasn't pleased with his limited role in the offense. The fact that he feels strongly enough to speak out now shows he is truly becoming a leader on this team, along with Holiday and Thaddeus Young.
However, his complaining was a little off the mark, as the main reason he didn't see many shots was that Allen simply is a defensive freak who thrives in denying his man the ball.
What to do with J-Rich
Before Friday's game in Golden State, Jason Richardson was listed as a game-time decision with a strained back. Richardson has fought the injury bug all season, first a sprained ankle and now the back. In his place recently, Dorell Wright has played very well, which has led to many emailers wondering whether Wright should remain a starter.
If Wright were starting, Evan Turner would slide to "two" guard. Because of Wright's outside shooting threat, that doesn't appear to be too much of a difference-maker offensively. Defensively, Turner would be matched with "two" guards, as opposed to the bigger small forwards he's faced most of the season. Wright, a very good defender, would be fine covering the small forwards.
The problem might be convincing Richardson to come off the bench. During his 13 seasons, Richardson has been primarily a starter, and asking him not to be might run the risk of losing him mentally. Also, with Nick Young being one of coach Doug Collins' key reserves, having him and Richardson on the floor at the same time might prove disastrous.
I would think that once Richardson is healthy, Wright returns to the bench, with Collins finding around 25 minutes a game of playing time. That seemed to be the plan during the preseason and right now appears to be the best for all involved.
Will Jrue Holiday be an All-Star, or not? Readers are increasingly posing that question, as the fourth-year player has certainly vaulted himself into the upper echelon of the league's point guards.
The buzz about Holiday is everywhere around the league. His name is often the first thing out of the mouths of coaches, general managers and others when they bring up the Sixers.
I thought his game against Memphis Wednesday, in which the Sixers pulled out an improbable win, was one of Holiday's most telling of the season. Though he shot only 5-for-16 from the floor and committed five turnovers, two coming late when the game was still undecided, Holiday may have been the key reason the Sixers pulled out the win.
Down 10 late in the second quarter, Collins shouted for Holiday to "make plays. Get the ball in your hands." Over the last 4 1/2 minutes of the half, the Sixers outscored the Grizzlies, 14-2, took the lead going into the second half and held on for the win.
Holiday continuously got to wherever he wanted on the floor against Memphis' Mike Conley, beating him off the dribble and getting nine assists. If it were a hockey game, Holiday would have had a handful more points, as his passing often led to another pass that resulted in a wide-open shot and basket.
The turnovers, particularly late in the game, have been a concern all season. But Holiday has blossomed tremendously, and still is not in full bloom.
"I hope the people in Philly see how special this kid is and is going to be," a front-office executive from another NBA team said to me. "He is going to be very special."
The Sixers are counting on it. But his All-Star days appear to be a little bit down the road. As good as Holiday has been, it appears almost impossible for him to be named to a team that certainly will feature guards Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo. It does help Holiday's case that Derrick Rose and John Wall are out with injuries, but his making the team still seems a longshot.