Collins: Embraceable Sixers coach

Posted: March 30, 2011

The man likes to hug. Current players, former players, fellow coaches, general managers, media members. If 76ers coach Doug Collins can get a hand on you, expect it to pull you closer for an embrace.

Collins may have gotten his hug quota filled for an entire month during the past couple of days in Chicago, where the Sixers pulled off an improbable, 97-85 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls on Monday night. The coach was back in the town where he spent three seasons as the coach of the Bulls in the late 1980s, where he and his family spent 10 years living, where his two children went to high school. He couldn't turn a corner at the United Center without seeing someone he knew from his days in Chitown, whether it be a security worker, a media member or someone on the Bulls' staff. Hugs, hugs and more hugs.

But Collins saved his most heartfelt embraces for his team. After Thaddeus Young came toward the bench at the end of the first half in which he had scored 17 points and lifted the Sixers to a 16-point lead, Collins grabbed him around the back of the neck and pulled him in. When Jrue Holiday had trouble executing a play in the first half that resulted in a poor offensive possession, Collins called him over for a one-on-one chat during a timeout, explained what he was looking for from his starting point guard, flashed that knowing, grandfatherly smile and followed it up with, that's right, a hug.

And when center Spencer Hawes drained three key jump shots in the fourth quarter to stave off a Chicago rally that could have squelched one of the Sixers' biggest wins of the season, he had no bigger cheerleader than his coach. After Hawes fouled out late in the fourth quarter with the game pretty much decided, there was Collins at the bench, arms extended.

Corny? Maybe, if the players were not buying into it. But that is Collins. He is an extremely caring person. He is happy when his players' performances lead to wins, almost more joyful that they are improving as players, as people. He deals marvelously in X's-and-O's, but even more in handling personalities and feelings. And it all seems to work. The players are benefiting greatly from his unmatched knowledge of the NBA game, but also have formed into an extension of their coach beyond that. There is genuine caring for one another. There is rarely finger-pointing. There are more pick-me-ups than you will find at a bar at 2 in the morning.

"I could not be more proud of this team," Collins said after the Chicago game. "The first time we walked into this building, we lost by 45 points [121-76 on Dec. 21] and now we've beaten them the last two times we've played them."

Monday night, when big bodies were needed down low to halt the continual penetration of guard Derrick Rose, Collins called on backup center Marreese Speights, who had seen practically no action the past couple of weeks, and Speights performed decently during his 5-plus minutes. Toward the end of the game, when Young tweaked his groin going after a loose ball, Collins called on Hawes, who rarely sees minutes at the end of games. The center responded with those key jumpers that helped seal the win.

The victory kept the Sixers two games ahead of the New York Knicks for the sixth seed in the Eastern playoff standings. With Boston faltering lately and the Miami Heat surging, it appears one of those two teams will be the first-round opponent for the Sixers. The Sixers will play in Boston next Tuesday, and last Friday lost a tough game in Miami by 12 points.

The opponent right now doesn't really matter to Collins. He just wants his players to keep clawing, keep proving to themselves that they can compete with anyone in the East. And if they need any encouragement, their coach surely will be there for them, arms extended, hug at the ready.

Injury update

The Sixers didn't practice yesterday, but sent word that Thaddeus Young received treatment and is a game-time decision tonight against the Houston Rockets.

Young was injured as he was chasing down a loose ball and appeared to have his foot slip out from under him, causing a split-like fall between the Sixers' bench and halfcourt.

Upon seeing Young go down, Doug Collins turned his back and grimaced in horror. He thought Young may have done some serious damage.

"I thought he blew out his knee when he slipped on the floor," Collins said. "It scared me to death."

Collins made his way to the fallen Young, held his hand for a minute and whispered something in his ear. A hug wasn't possible at that point.

Also, backup center Tony Battie was relegated to the bench on Monday, suffering from flulike symptoms. He should be OK tonight.

Six shots

The Rockets, who have climbed back into the West playoff hunt, had a five-game winning streak snapped by Miami on Sunday. They won at New Jersey last night, 112-87 . . . The Sixers finish the week by hosting New Jersey on Friday before playing at Milwaukee on Saturday. It is the second time in 3 weeks the team has played at Milwaukee on the second night of back-to-back games. On March 12, they were throttled in Milwaukee, 102-74.

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