The question has been asked so often that when even the hint of the name comes up, an uneasy smile forms on the coach's face.

Still, the question is warranted. When your shooting guard has made only nine of his past 39 shots (23.1 percent) in the past seven games, including 1-for-17 from three-point range, and who hasn't exactly stood out in other areas of the game, the question will linger.

Why is Jodie Meeks still in the starting lineup and why is he averaging 25.4 minutes a game during the past seven?

If your main marksman appears to be out of bullets at the moment, what good is it to bring him to the gunfight? Well, according to 76ers coach Doug Collins, it is the mere threat that Meeks possesses on the court that makes it imperative for him to be out there.

The way Collins describes it makes you think of the Eagles and wide receiver DeSean Jackson. While Jackson's numbers sometimes are paltry, the threat of him and his big-play ability makes defense not only take notice, but rotate their coverage toward him, thus leaving openings for other players.

Problem is, players such as DeSean Jackson do other things well during a game. If not hitting open shots, Meeks really just fills space. At least that's what it appears. Only Collins doesn't see it like that.

"I'm going to start the same group, and if a guy's not playing well, I've got to make a sub," he said. "Nik [Vucevic, the starting center] has struggled the last few games. We're at a point right now where every game is precious. Lavoy [Allen] came in [Wednesday] and did a good job, so I'm going to stay with our group, and, as I said, I don't want to change, but if guys aren't playing well, I'll have to get guys in who are playing well. That's just where we're at right now."

The follow-up question was posed this way: "On that same note, a lot of people will say that Jodie hasn't played well at all lately and he's still getting a lot of minutes. Do you look at that situation a little closer?"

Collins didn't hesitate with his answer: "I've got to go on how I think that fits with what we're trying to get accomplished with that second unit. Jodie brings us that little element to that first unit, he gives us spacing out on the floor, something we don't have if we start Evan [Turner] out there right now."

Then with a clap of the hands and a reassuring nod, Collins added: "So I'm going to hang with what I'm doing here, and it might be that I have to go to the bench a little bit sooner and if I do that, I do that. But I just don't want to change what we're doing right now.

"For him, it's not like he's one of those guys that you can run four or five plays for Jodie, because if he misses a couple, it only exacerbates what he's going through, and I don't want to do that. We've got to figure it out. If you look at our numbers, we've actually played pretty good offense over the last five games or so. We've had 100 points two times. We had 97 the other night against Indiana, had 100 against Orlando - of course, we gave up 113. But our offense has been a little bit better."

In fact, in the past seven games, when Meeks has struggled so much, the team is averaging 95.4 points a game - about two points above its season average. At the same time, the Sixers have gone 3-4 during that span and allowed 94.7 points - nearly five points above what they've allowed all season.

So two trains of thought arise. Would taking Meeks out of the starting lineup and inserting, say, Sam Young maybe be an idea? Young would give the team a defensive and physical presence that Meeks doesn't have, and he probably would be able to produce at least the same offensive output as Meeks.

Or is sticking with him the way to go? That means the bench players don't get shuffled around and, after all, the offense has been more productive lately, though wins have not exactly been the result.

Collins is set on his decision.

"When my son [Chris] played at Duke as a sophomore, Grant Hill was the starting point guard," Collins said. "If Chris would have stood in the parking lot, somebody would have stood there with him. They weren't going to give him any shots. So what that does [spreading the defense] is it opens up maybe a drive for Jrue [Holiday], a drive for 'Dre [Iguodala] a post-up for E.B. [Elton Brand]. It changes. You put a team out on the floor who doesn't shoot the ball well and you play in a phone booth. Now you've got no spacing. It's hard to have a post game, there's no driving lanes, and people are going to give you long twos. That's what we do [defensively].

"If Jodie's on the floor, they're not going to let him sniff a shot. That's why transition is so important, because if we can throw that ball ahead to him, now it gives you a quick entry into the post and now you cut and maybe you can get some stuff early [in the possession, as opposed to playing a halfcourt offense, where the Sixers suffer]. Sometimes you look at the stats and say, 'Wow.' But from a coaching staff, we look at the film and see what things bring for us."

Postseason awards

With the last week of the NBA regular season upon us, it's time to look at who we think should be the winners for different seasonal awards. So here we go:

MVP: Many think this is a two-player race between Miami's LeBron James and Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant. Sorry, I just don't see it that way. LeBron is my winner, by a pretty wide margin. The overall things he does for his team pretty much every night are undeniable. Durant is a prolific scorer and has improved his defense, but James (27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists) just does more. I like to say he appears to be a man among boys a lot more often than any other player in the league. Others getting votes, in order: Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker (sorry, Kobe).

Defensive Player of the Year: With a wide-open style of play, the Oklahoma City Thunder is susceptible to giving up easy baskets. But it allows only a little more than 96.4 points a game, not bad when you consider they score nearly 103. They are a long-shooting team, which leads to long rebounds and fastbreaks for the other team. But none of that matters as long as OKC has 6-10 Serge Ibaka protecting the basket. Ibaka is as active a defender as you'll find in the league, with impeccable timing to block shots, which he does at a league-leading average of 3.6 a game. Josh Smith, of the Atlanta Hawks, will also get a lot of votes.

Sixth Man: There is no question who wins this: Oklahoma City's James Harden. He is the perfect complement to the devastating one-two punch that is Durant and Russell Westbrook. Lou Williams, of the Sixers, could wind up in the top three.

Rookie of the Year: Cleveland's Kyrie Irving has struggled with injuries much of the season, but still wins this easily.

Coach of the Year: Three coaches stand out in this one, and we'll give it to Indiana's Frank Vogel over Chicago's Tom Thibodeau and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich.

Contact Bob Cooney at cooneyb@phillynews.com.