Sixers stop Wiz in midstream, then pour it on

Posted: February 24, 2011

I DON'T THINK Doug Collins really had to say much of anything.

His players already knew.

The Sixers' turnaround from their 3-13 start has been predicated on defense.

No, it's not the lockdown variety the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks used to play.

But in a season when scoring is up across the board, the Sixers, in relative terms, have become one of the better teams at slowing the opposition.

Entering last night's game, the Sixers ranked eighth in the league in field-goal defense, holding opponents to 44.7 percent shooting.

Their scoring defense ranked 13th, at 96.9 points a game.

So when the Washington Wizards raced to 31 points in the first quarter by shooting 57.1 percent, the Sixers were well aware of what had to change.

The story of their season was laid out in front of them.

The Wizards were on pace to score 124.

When the Sixers gave up 100-plus points, their record was 2-17.

When they gave up fewer than 100, they were 25-12.

The Sixers shoot a respectable 46.1 percent from the floor - right in the middle of the league rankings.

When the Sixers shot the same or a better percentage than the opposition, they were 24-10.

So Collins really didn't need to tell the Sixers what needed to change after the first 12 minutes.

"They knew, but I said it anyway," Collins said after the Sixers posted a 117-94 win over Washington. "I've got to be a [jerk] sometimes."

The Sixers put on the defensive clamps in the second quarter by holding the Wizards to 18 points on 33.3 percent shooting.

Then they turned a close game into a rout by outscoring Washington 34-15 in the third.

The Sixers led by 36 with 5 minutes left in the game before things eased up a bit on the hapless Wizards.

"After the All-Star break, you have to get your legs back a little bit," Sixers forward Elton Brand said. "[Washington] played [Tuesday], so they had knocked some of the rust off.

"Our defense really stepped up. Over 30 points in the first quarter, we knew that's not what we're about. We stepped up our intensity and defensive matchups.

"Guys were taking it upon themselves, taking it personal, and we started getting some stops."

Wizards rookie John Wall had scored 16 points in the first half, but a change in defensive position limited him to just five the rest of the way.

"Our big guys were giving Wall too much room," Collins said. "We brought our bigs up to close the gap so [Wall] couldn't get a head of speed where he was going downhill.

"When he's going downhill, he's so fast that you can't get in front of him. Our bigs also did a much better job of communicating on screens so that when [Wall] used a screen we could be in position to give help."

This was the way the Sixers needed to start after the All-Star break.

They had taken a lot of momentum into the break by winning four of six games, including wins over San Antonio and Atlanta.

But they hadn't played in a week, and the Wizards (15-41), who had won just once in 27 road games, could have been an easy team to overlook.

Collins, however, had reminded his players that despite its overall record, Washington had beaten the Sixers in two out of three games.

"I was concerned about a sluggish start and we had it," Collins said. "We had it, especially defensively. But we really pick up the intensity."

Considering the Wizards' record, this might not look like an overly impressive win, but it was an important one.

The key to a team positioning itself for the playoffs is primarily about winning the games you are supposed to win.

That had been a problem for the Sixers and had a lot to do with the hole they had dug for themselves at the start of the season.

Starting with the Wizards, the Sixers had three games against teams they should beat. The next two are the Detroit Pistons (21-38) and Cleveland Cavaliers (10-47).

Doing so will put the Sixers (28-29) over .500 for the first time in more than 1 1/2 seasons.

Considering how low they had been, it would be a remarkable accomplishment to get above .500 with a quarter of the season still remaining.

"This was excellent for us," Brand said of the win over Washington. "We didn't want to lose this game and then be back on our heels.

"We played great from the second quarter on. This is a great win for our confidence, just to know that, OK, we're ready, we're back, and we're winning games at home again.

"Now, it's 'Let's keep going.' " *

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