After Last Second Loss to Clippers, the Sixers are Bloodied, but Unbowed

With Andre Iguodala all over him, Clippers guard Chris Paul hits the game-winning basket to beat Philly.

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and Chris Murray Report

Sixers head coach Doug Collins prides himself on being a teacher and relishes opportunities during the season to give his young players an opportunity to learn new plays as well as refreshing their minds on the fundamentals of the game.

In what has been the most difficult stretch of the season for his young team, Collins has had little time for chalk talk or rest  because the best classroom for his team during the last two weeks has been going up against the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard Tony Parker.

“The most fun part of coaching  is teaching,” Collins said. “It’s being on the floor with our guys and walking through stuff and having practices, putting in a new play.  We haven’t been able to do that.”

And maybe that lack of practice time caught up to the Sixers in a heartbreaking 78-77 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in front of a sell-out crowd of 20, 539  fans at the Wells Fargo Center Friday. It was the first time the Sixers have lost back-to-back games this season.

Clippers point-guard Chris Paul, with Sixers forward Andre Iguodala in his face, sank a 16-foot fade away jumper at the foul line with 3.2 seconds left put the Clippers ahead. Paul scored a game-high 24 points while Blake Griffin added 16 points.

“(Paul) does a good job of using his body,” Iguodala said of defending the game-winning shot. “He just got that extra inch, I almost blocked it actually. He did a good job of getting the shot off.”

On the Sixers final possession, Lou Williams couldn’t get off a final shot as he was surrounded by Paul and forward Kenyon Martin.  Collins put the team’s lack of execution on the game’s final play on his shoulders.

“Whatever it was, it did not work,” Collins said during his postgame press conference. “It was terrible on my part. Put that down—terrible on my part.”

Added Williams: “I caught it and they trapped right away and when you got three seconds, you really can’t get a look at the rim.”

With tonight’s loss to the Clippers, the 76ers have won four of the seven games against teams with winning records and have built a solid 18-9 record and are currently the No. 3 seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. They have beaten the Los Angeles Lakers, the Orlando Magic, the Atlanta Hawks and the Chicago Bulls.

“We haven’t gotten killed just yet,” said Williams, who scored 11 points in the loss to the Clippers. “All of these games are learning experiences. One comes down to us trying to make a shot at the end of the game. One comes down to other teams making shots. Nobody’s manhandled us in our building and so obviously we learned something from that.”

In their losses to Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, the Sixers were gnawing at the heels of those teams for about three quarters. Both teams needed a big scoring spurt to finish the Sixers off. In the loss to the Clippers, it took an incredible shot by Paul to beat the Sixers. Collins said his team played well during this stretch, especially with center Spencer Hawes out with a left Achilles injury.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Collins said. “If you had told me that we would be sitting here at 18-9 with the way we’ve handled ourselves at home and the teams that we’ve had to play, the fact that like a lot of other teams we’ve been short-handed, especially along the front line.

“I’ve said before I thought that Tony Battie and Lavoy Allen came in and rescued us and saved us a couple of home games.”

Iguodala said he thinks the Sixers have become a mentally tougher team over the last seven games.

“It usually runs with you, it carries over for a week or two,” said Igoudala. “Hopefully, it continues with the high level we’ve been playing because we’ve been getting wins against these good teams. I think that part of the stretch is over. Now it’s time for us to continuing playing high level basketball and get wins.”

The Sixers will embark on a three-game road trip, starting Saturday, that will take them to Cleveland, Charlotte (Monday, Feb. 13) and Orlando (Wednesday, Feb. 15). They will be back at the Wells Fargo Center for a game against the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

“It was a good week for us, all is not lost, but it would be good to get away and have a change of scenery,” Williams said. “We’ve always played well on the road and so we’ll see what happens.”

Coming of Age: Young Sixers Are Finding Themselves in Tough Stretch of Games

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By Chris Murray

Could Lou Williams be the go-to guy for Sixers?

For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

After playing in six of seven games against some of the league best teams, the 76ers, the No. 3  Seed in the Eastern Conference, have won four out of six of those games coming into Friday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Wells Fargo Center.

It’s safe to say that the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers are one of the better teams in the league, but they still have plenty of room to grow as losses to teams like the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs would indicate. Sixers guard Lou Williams said his team is not only good enough to hang with some of the league’s elite teams, but they are becoming good enough to beat them.

“We’re just fighting every night,” Williams said. “I think we’re right on the brink of being the team we want to be. At this point, I don’t think we’re using teams as measuring sticks because we feel like we can beat a lot of these teams. Now, it’s just going out and winning games.”

The Sixers, with their unselfish play on offense and a tenacious defense, have managed to win these games despite injuries to their big men like seven-foot-one-inch center Spencer Hawes who has been battling sore left Achilles and a bad back. Power forward Elton Brand has also missed some time with a sore thumb.

Sixers head coach Doug Collins said he has been impressed with the play of his younger backup players like rookies Lavoy Allen, Nikola Vucevic and veteran Tony Battie. During this current run of games these players have contributed through scoring and doing things like playing defense and pulling down rebounds.

“I think the fact that we have some younger guys helps us,” Collins said. “If you look at it around the league, a lot of the guy who’ve played a lot of years that are getting nicked up. What we’ve been able to do is find ways to to win when you have key guys out and you have to be able to do that. The only way to do that is to have depth and then have the guys you bring in do a good job for you.

“I thought that Vucevic and Tony Battie really help save us from disastrous results with all those home games.”

Collins said keeping his team fresh and making sure that they get adequate rest during their off days has helped the Sixers stay sharp during this difficult stretch of games.

“The thing that I’m happy about is the maturity of our team,”Collins said. “I think they’ve responded well to the time off and to utilize the rest time to be sharp in games.”

Another sure sign that the Sixers are evolving into of those good teams in the NBA is their ability to bounce back from tough losses and to stay focused after big wins. After a tough loss to the Miami Heat, the Sixers went on the road and came away with a convincing win over the Atlanta Hawks and followed that win up by beating Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in what was a close contest throughout the game.

“I think we’ve realized that we can beat anybody in the league, we’ve shown that,” said Andre Iguodala. “After a win, we’ve got to look forward to the next game. The games keep coming behind each other, so you got to prepared if you win or lose one you’re diving right back into the next game.”

Even in the midst of their current run of games, there is still talk about among fans and local media pundits about the Sixers needing that “go-to guy” in the fourth quarter. Could Lou Williams be that guy for the Sixers?

In Monday’s win over the Lakers, Williams came off the bench and scored 14 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, 13 came in the last 3:48 of the period including the go-ahead three with 2:06 left that put the Sixers up for good.

“The one thing about Lou is that he’ll be 1-for-15 and he’ll shoot the 16th,” Collins said. “You’ve got to have that kind of attitude if you’re going to be that guy coming off the bench on a nightly basis.”