Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Andre the Giants

The Sixers finally snapped their losing streak last night, topping the Bulls 103-95 in overtime. It's been a slow start for the Sixers this season, especially given the lofty expectations heaped upon this squad after last year's surprising playoff performance and offseason acquisitions. And last night's win, along with the team's early up-and-down start, made one thing abundantly clear: This teams still goes as Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala go.

The big news in the offseason was the acquisition of Brand, reinforcements added to the bench and a new look for the Sixers. But every night, you pretty much know what you're going to get from Brand. His numbers will be there—around 20 points and 10 boards a night. Last night was no exception with 22 and 14. But the telling tale of the Sixers has been the play of Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller.

When Miller and Iguodala have played well, the Sixers have won. When one has played well and the other poorly, they've won some and lost some. And when they've both struggled, the Sixers have lost. Just take a look at this home and home mini-series with the Bulls.

In Sunday's loss at home, Iguodala struggled, as has been the case most of the season. He scored just 8 points, took just 9 shots and turned the ball over 4 times. Andre Miller also had a rough go of it, shooting just 5 of 12 from the field and struggling to contain rookie phenom Derrick Rose. Miller did have 15 points and 10 assists, but his defense was lacking and the team wasn't running.

Flip that to last night. Iguodala had by far his best game of the year, going off for 25 points, 9 boards, 5 assists, a steal and a block. He was flying all over the court, getting easy buckets, playing solid defense and gaining confidence on his his jumpers. He shot an efficient 11 of 19 from the floor, and more importantly, was involved on both ends all night.

Ditto Andre Miller. After getting embarrassed by Rose on Sunday, Andre showed the rookie he still has some game himself. Miller scored a game-high 28 points, especially taking over in the OT after missing a game-winning three in regulation (set up beautifully by Iguodala, by the way), and got to the line 11 times.

The result, a Sixers win. It was the type of performance we've been waiting for from Iguodala all year, and Miller has shown he's willing to do what it takes, whether it be dishing or scoring. And with Thaddeus Young struggling to score last night, Miller had to pick up the slack. It resulted in three Sixers scoring more than 20 points, with Iguodala (25), Miller (28) and Brand (22). If the Sixers can get 20 points from three players, or close to it, consistently, they will be just fine. Ideally, it will be Brand, Iguodala and Young, allowing Miller to do more playmaking than shooting, because you don't want Miller hoisting 26 shots very often. 15 would suffice, with something like 10 assists.

But last night's game made it abundantly clear that for this team to really reach the potential so many prognosticators believed they had heading into the season, it falls on the shoulders of the two Andres. Brand will get his. It's up to Miller and Iguodala to lessen the burden and make the Sixers the exciting, running team they were at the end of the last season.

Oh, and watching that game with my full attention once the Flyers were through, the race for Rookie of the Year is over. Yes, O.J. Mayo is scoring in bunches, but Derrick Rose is by far the best rookie in the league. He's the Dwyane Wade of the Bulls, doing anything and everything asked of him. Hell, he may be a top 5 point guard in the entire NBA already. The kid is no joke. It should be fun watching him for years to come.

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