A majority of the Sixers' games this season will be decided in few-minute segments that present themselves often at the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third.
The NBA is in some ways like a game of dribble knockout, a basketball drill requiring you to maintain your dribble within set parameters. When the game begins, the entire court is usually inbounds and all players can scamper around freely, rarely needing masterful dribbling tactics to be effective. As the game progresses, and players are eliminated, the boundaries move first to the half court, then inside the three-point line, and ultimately just inside the lane.
As the boundaries of the game shrink, skill and execution become paramount and precision is demanded.
Often, an NBA game mirrors this pattern: In the first quarter, as each team warms up and attempts to set a tempo, speed and athleticism can be just as important as skill and execution.
But at some point, the game is squeezed into a smaller space. It's in these chunks of time that the Sixers' skills - running, dunking, jumping, filling lanes - are virtually worthless, easily trumped by an opponent with a go-to low-post presence, or a highly skilled wing player, or an effective point guard.
Or some mix of the three.
Right now, when the game contracts to the half court, and then sometimes further inside the three-point line, the Sixers are unsure, back on their heels, ill-equipped to counter an NBA team's defense with poise and precision.
And it's in these "bad stretches" that the Sixers go from competing for the win to competing for respectability.
There are solutions - none as effective as a change of personnel, of course - which Collins will attempt to implement.
He'll simplify the offense even further.
Instead of requiring his young guards Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner to wait for a wing player to cut off for a choice of screens, perhaps Collins will immediately bring an on-ball screen.
These stretches don't last all game. Eventually the pace will quicken and tilt once again in the Sixers' favor, but when boxed into the half court, there has to be - there really must be - a very simple cheat sheet to which Collins' team can turn.
The effort extended by the Sixers is not their downfall; they're playing hard, which was a hit-or-miss prospect last season.
Part of the improved intensity comes from Collins and his coaching staff. Part comes from the addition of Nocioni, who represents his all-out mentality with a bulldog tattooed on his left calf.
The image, looking very much like the University of Georgia's mascot, has a red thunderbolt behind it.
Black ink on white skin, the tattoo stands out against Nocioni's fair complexion and emboldens his rather skinny legs. The mark is not an homage to the grouchy southern mascot - Nocioni is from Argentina - but rather a visual representation of how Nocioni sees himself: relentless, physical, feisty.
And, as it turns out, exactly what the Sixers have been missing.
On Saturday night, in a loss to the Indiana Pacers, Nocioni launched himself after a loose ball, landing in the laps of teammates Marreese Speights, Jodie Meeks, and Craig Brackins.
A few minutes later, Indiana committed a hard foul on Elton Brand and Collins popped out of his seat and turned to his bench.
"You see how they take a hard foul?" Collins yelled. "You see that?"
Collins, you may have noticed, is rarely seated.
Inside the Sixers:
Blog Comment of the Week
Posted at 6:39 a.m. on 10/31/2010 by barrywil.
Andre Miller and Iverson before him masked gaping holes in this roster for years. At so many seemingly insignificant yet critical points in games, they manufactured points when there was no continuity in the half-court offense. There were moments in every game over the past two years, like the third period [Saturday] night when you get the feeling that there is no way this team can score against even the most feeble defenses unless the opposition commits careless turnovers.
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