Even with the date of center Andrew Bynum's return unknown, the Sixers believe they will be a much better offensive unit, having demonstrated as much during the preseason. But they have quietly believed that the added length on the roster, especially on the perimeter, will make them better defensively.
This was the type of game the Sixers might have lost last season. Denver outshot the Sixers from the field (37.5 percent to 35.3). Last season, the Sixers went 5-21 in games in which they were outshot. In games in which they were held under 40 percent shooting last season, they were just 2-12.
"That is a good team that we beat. It would have been a difficult game for us to get last year," Collins said.
Spencer Hawes, not known as a defensive force, was all over the court Wednesday, posting a double-double (16 points and 12 rebounds) off the bench. But Hawes made his impact perhaps even more at the defensive end, where he blocked a game-high five shots.
Hawes, who played particularly well at the start of last season before an Achilles tendon injury kept him sidelined for more than a month, was a starter last season. But he said after the game that he has become acclimated to his role off the bench.
"There are a lot of good pieces on this team," Hawes said. "I know that from a coaching standpoint, Coach is going to look for a lot of combinations to see where they fit. We have great expectations this year and we know that we have to contribute in whatever way we can."
Hawes was one of five Sixers to score in double figures. While Jrue Holiday's agent was conducting talks with the team for a potential contract extension - midnight Wednesday was the deadline for a deal to be done - Holiday finished with 14 points and 11 assists.
Dorell Wright came off the bench for 14 points and seven rebounds, Thaddeus Young had 13 points, and Jason Richardson added 10 for the Sixers.
Ty Lawson led Denver with 16 points and seven assists. Iguodala finished with 11 points on 5-for-13 shooting.
The Sixers grew somewhat sloppy in the fourth quarter. As a result, Lawson's layup with 4 minutes, 41 seconds remaining pulled Denver within one point.
But Holiday converted a crucial three-point play to reawaken the Sixers, especially on defense, where they gave up just two more field goals the rest of the way.
"Jrue's basket was huge for us right there," Collins said.
Contact John N. Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @JmitchInquirer