Tough schedule toughens young Sixers team

Posted: November 23, 2010

When Doug Collins was named the 76ers' head coach in May, he knew his task was monumental.

Little did he know that the NBA schedule makers would make it even more difficult.

Tonight, the Sixers play at the Washington Wizards, the first of four games in 5 days. When those four games are completed after Saturday's game against visiting New Jersey, the team will have played 17 games. Of those, 10 will have been played on the road, with 12 parts of back-to-back games.

"I think it's good that we've played really good teams, I really do," Collins said yesterday after practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "I think we've shown that we can play with most anybody. The only two games really that were not competitive were Miami and San Antonio. I think for us, it's continuing to play with the same kind of enthusiasm and all the things that put us in a position to have a chance to win the game. And then we just have to do a better job of closing them out."

The Sixers return tonight to the spot of the season's most disappointing loss, when, on Nov. 2, they blew a six-point lead in the final minute, were forced to overtime on a desperation three by Cartier Martin, then lost in overtime. Wizards rookie John Wall had 29 points, 13 assists and nine steals. He is questionable tonight with a foot injury that has cost him the last four games, though Collins and the team expect him to play. A Wizards spokesman said last night that more about Wall's availability will be known after this morning's shootaround. Embattled guard Gilbert Arenas, who missed the first Sixers game with an ankle injury, has been filling in for Wall, averaging 18 points and 6.8 assists in the four games.

After the Wizards, the Sixers will fly to Toronto for tomorrow's game, then fly to Miami, where they will have Thanksgiving off before playing the Heat on Friday. They'll depart Miami after the game and host the Nets Saturday.

They will get a boost this grueling week with the return of Andre Iguodala, who has missed five of the past seven games with tendinitis in his right Achilles' tendon. Collins has spoken of how much easier it would be to get through these tough times with a full lineup, so that he can set his rotations. Iguodala's return seemed to do that, but word came yesterday that forward Andres Nocioni, whom Collins had penciled in for close to 20 minutes off the bench, bruised his left foot and is day-to-day.

"I'm hoping Dre [Iguodala] being back will help us [close out games], not only on the defensive end but on the offensive end as a proven guy," Collins said. "We're hoping to get him back and him being good and really help us at the finish."

Second-year player Jrue Holiday has been through just one seasonal grind, but is already feeling the effects of this year's tough schedule.

"It is [brutal]," Holiday said. "My body's already been taking a toll, I've had to ice it a couple of times. Our schedule is kind of crazy, but what can we do about it? We've got to play through. Really, toward the end of the season it will come easier, hopefully. We play hard now, we learn now faster and then toward the end of the year we become a better, smarter team."

In the future, that will be great. But for now, it's a lot of lessons. And we all know how much fun they are.

Six shots

Forward Jason Kapono was out yesterday for personal reasons . . . Andre Iguodala went through the whole practice and played two-on-two after practice. He and Jodie Meeks played against assistant coaches Aaron McKie and Michael Curry, and Iguodala appeared to move well . . . Doug Collins said that when his team is fully healthy, his starting lineup would be Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner at guard, Andre Iguodala at small forward, Elton Brand at power forward and Spencer Hawes at center. Lou Williams will be the first guard off the bench and Andres Nocioni or Thaddeus Young the first forward, with Marreese Speights the first center off the bench. Collins would mix in the other players as he sees fit. *

For more Sixers coverage, read the

Daily News' Sixers blog, Sixerville, at

http://go.philly.com/sixerville.

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