Sixers take positives from run

Awaiting the final news conference of the season are Sixers players (from left) Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks, and Evan Turner.
Awaiting the final news conference of the season are Sixers players (from left) Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks, and Evan Turner. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)

"We have some good young pieces," said Rod Thorn, who also cited a need to improve.

Posted: May 29, 2012

The 76ers hadn't gotten much sleep when they met Sunday for one last time about 12 hours after their season had ended with Saturday's 85-75 loss to the Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Boston.

The players and management assessed a season that started quickly, with 20 wins in the first 29 games, and hit some major bumps in the road before the Sixers picked it up in the end, earning a longer postseason stay than anyone had predicted.

Yes, the Sixers were helped in the first round by injuries to Chicago's Derrick Rose and then Joakim Noah. But they still earned some league-wide respect after lasting 13 games in two playoff rounds.

As the team held exit interviews Sunday, the theme for management, coach Doug Collins, and the players was that this season provided many positives, but a lot must be done to make the franchise better.

"It was an up-and-down season, with a 20-9 start, and then we had some trouble at the end of the season," said Elton Brand, who battled injuries and averaged just 8.6 points in the 13 postseason games. "We went to the playoffs, won the first round, and took a veteran team to Game 7, and overall it was a good season for us."

For anyone reaching between the lines, it appears that change is coming.

"We have some good young pieces, and we obviously have a lot of character on the team. Our guys fought all the way," team president Rod Thorn said. "But there are ways we need to improve, and hopefully we can do it."

Collins said that some players needed to make some non-basketball changes. He urged Evan Turner to lose weight and Thaddeus Young to gain some.

Yet one day after the season ended, no one on the players' side was thinking of the team's breaking up. They already were looking ahead to next season, hoping that what they learned from two postseason rounds will help their development.

"I definitely think some of the young guys can get better, especially from a mental aspect," said Andre Iguodala, who at 28 earned his first all-star berth and is among the old-timers on this youthful team. "Guys also will become better shooters as they play more in the league, get more comfortable with the ball and arenas."

Shooting is a major reason that Boston and not the Sixers will be facing Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Sixers shot 35 percent (28 for 80) in Saturday's loss. During the Boston series, the Sixers shot 41.4 percent from the field.

Though the Celtics are a strong defensive team, the Sixers missed many open shots, especially in Game 7.

Lou Williams, who was the Sixers' regular-season scoring leader with 14.9 points per game, struggled in the playoffs. Against Boston, he averaged 10.3 points, shooting just 26 for 77 (33.8 percent) and only 4 for 22 (.188) from beyond the three-point arc.

"I struggled a little bit dealing with different coverages, and teams decided they weren't going to let me play freely," Williams said.

Williams can opt out of his contract, and center Spencer Hawes is an unrestricted free agent. Both said they hoped they could come back, but there is no guarantee.

Lavoy Allen and Jodie Meeks are restricted free agents.

Nobody made bigger strides than Allen, the 50th pick in the draft out of Temple and a graduate of Pennsbury High School.

Last year he was playing in the Atlantic Ten Conference. This spring he was guarding future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett in the NBA playoffs.

Allen was the season's most pleasant surprise to everybody, including himself.

"I didn't expect by the end of the year I would be getting significant minutes in the playoffs," said Allen, who averaged more than 22 minutes per game against Boston. "I wasn't satisfied by the way it went, but I was happy to be in that position."

That sums up the feelings. There is much to feel good about, but even more to improve on.

Let the offseason begin.

Contact Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or Follow on Twitter @sjnard.

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