The NBA: Philly Enjoying Its Holiday

The 76ers are enjoying the excellent play of
lead guard Jrue Holiday.
(image by Frank Gunn/AP)
Despite losing a big chunk of their offense with the departures of Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, and Lou Williams, the Philadelphia 76ers should still be one of most exciting teams to watch in the Eastern Conference.

So far, the Sixers haven’t disappointed. They’re second in the Atlantic Division right behind conference-leading New York, which is still undefeated after 4 games (surprise surprise!). Philly actually lost to the Knicks in a home-and-home series about a week ago, but they bounced back nicely with a three-game winning run highlighted by their beatdown of the Celtics this past Saturday (Manila time).

Things are also looking good in the next few days as they tackle the inconsistent Milwaukee Bucks and the lowly Detroit Pistons.

One big reason the Sixers are flying early this season is the breakout play of guard Jrue Holiday (damn, I knew I should’ve chosen him as my keeper!!!), who has actually noticed that his role has become bigger this season.

“In the preseason, I [noticed myself] getting a lot more comfortable handling the ball, running through plays, and seeing mismatches,” said Holiday last week. “Coach [Collins] trusts me [to make the correct reads] and call the right plays. Him showing that confidence means a lot to me.”

The stats show that Philly head tactician Doug Collins’s confidence is not unfounded.

Holiday is norming career-highs in points (18.2), assists (9.5), steals (1.7), 3-point percentage (43.5%), and minutes played (38.8) so far this season. In fact, if he keeps things up, Holiday might not be a bad pick for a spot in the All-Star Game (yeah yeah it’s still too early, but who knows, right?).

Teammate Jason Richardson has also been paying attention. He had this to say about his talented playmaker, “His basketball IQ is amazing. He can score at will, he’s smooth with the ball, [he plays great] defense, and he’s a willing passer. Give him three or four years, not even that, and he’ll be a top-five point guard.”

Clearly, the exodus of Iguodala and Williams has given Holiday more touches and more opportunities to showcase his skills. The former UCLA Bruin has produced double-doubles in three of Philly’s six games, including an eye-popping 21-point, 14-assist performance against Rajon Rondo. Just don’t look at the turnover numbers. Hey, nobody’s perfect, right? (LeBron James is shaking his head now)

Clearly, the Sixers are on the rise, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see them contending for one of the top four seeds in the East when March swings around. Of course, they’ll need Holiday to remain playing at a high level for that to happen.

“He has to be our quarterback,” said Coach Collins. “[I am looking to be] a coach who has a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady, that guy who becomes an extension of you [on the court], getting guys in the right spots, making the right decisions, and playing with a joy you love to see. I think Jrue has all those capabilities."

Somewhere in LA and Brooklyn, Chris Paul and Deron Williams are looking over their shoulders as a throng of young guards is out to unseat them (read: Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard), and Jrue Holiday might just be the best one of the lot.

Game Recaps (courtesy of the Sports Network):
Indiana 89, Washington 85
Paul George posted 20 points and seven rebounds as Indiana took down Washington, 89-85, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Gerald Green had 15 points and eight rebounds while Lance Stephenson added 12 points and David West gave 11 for the Pacers, who snapped a three-game slide. Emeka Okafor and Bradley Beal each posted 17 points while A.J. Price gave 12 points and 14 rebounds for the Wizards, who have dropped all five of their games this season.

Roy Hibbert posts up Emeka Okafor as
the Pacers beat the Wizards.
(image by Ron Hoskins/Getty Images)

Philadelphia 93, Toronto 83
Thaddeus Young netted 16 points and pulled down eight rebounds on Saturday as the Philadelphia 76ers knocked off the Toronto Raptors, 93-83, at Air Canada Centre. Nick Young put home 16 points off the bench and Jrue Holiday donated 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go with five assists for the Sixers, who have won three straight. Spencer Hawes added 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Dorell Wright had 15 points and six boards in the triumph. Andrea Bargnani laced a game-high 23 points and grabbed five rebounds, while DeMar DeRozan ended his night with 19 points and six rebounds for the Raptors, who fell to 1-5 on the season.

Thaddeus Young was just 2 rebounds shy of
a double-double against Toronto.
(image by Ron Turenne/Getty Images)

Charlotte 101, Dallas 97 (OT)
It took eight-plus seasons, but the Charlotte Bobcats finally beat the Dallas Mavericks. Kemba Walker had a spectacular all-around game with 26 points, six rebounds, seven assists and eight steals in a 101-97 overtime win Saturday night at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Mavericks had won the first 16 games against the Bobcats in the regular season since the franchise expanded into the league in 2004. Until Saturday, the Bobcats had never cracked the century mark against the Mavs. That included a 126-99 score a week ago, when O.J. Mayo made seven 3-point shots and scored 30 for Dallas. But this time the Bobcats tied the game with 2.8 seconds left in regulation thanks to a driving layup from Ramon Sessions. Byron Mullens put in the go-ahead dunk in overtime. Mullens tied a career- high with 14 rebounds, while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist recorded 25 points and 12 boards for the Bobcats, who lost their previous three games. Sessions scored 12.

Chicago 87, Minnesota 80
Nate Robinson poured in 18 points off the bench on Saturday, as the Chicago Bulls held off the Minnesota Timberwolves, 87-80, at United Center. Joakim Noah netted 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Luol Deng added 16 points, seven boards and four assists for the Bulls, who have won the last six meetings with Minnesota. Nikola Pekovic paced the Timberwolves with 18 points to go with eight rebounds and Andrei Kirilenko chipped in 11 points, 12 boards and seven assists in a losing effort, as Minnesota had its three-game winning streak snapped. Mayo had 22 points, but the Mavericks failed to hold a late lead in regulation and lost their second in a row.

Houston 96, Detroit 82
James Harden scored 20 points and Omer Asik added 14 points and eight rebounds, as the Houston Rockets crushed the winless Detroit Pistons, 96-82, at Toyota Center. Marcus Morris and fellow reserve Toney Douglas chipped in 12 and 11 points, respectively, for the Rockets, who snapped a three-game slide and won their first home game of the young season. Kelvin Sampson served as Houston's head coach after Kevin McHale took a leave of absence from the team to attend to a personal family matter. The Pistons, who nearly went a full 12 minutes without making a field goal in the second half, fell to 0-7 for the first time since the 1980-81 campaign. Greg Monroe recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Brandon Knight netted a team-high 16 points in defeat.

Boston 96, Milwaukee 92
Paul Pierce outdueled Monta Ellis in the fourth quarter and the Boston Celtics downed the Milwaukee Bucks, 96-92, on Saturday. Pierce netted eight of his 25 points in the final frame for the Celtics, who have won three of their last four games. Kevin Garnett added 18 points and six rebounds, while Rajon Rondo tallied 10 points and 10 assists in the win. Ellis had 11 of his game-high 32 points in the fourth for Milwaukee, which has dropped two of three since beginning the year with back-to-back victories.

Utah 94, Phoenix 81
Al Jefferson recorded a double-double with 27 points and 14 rebounds on Saturday to lead the Utah Jazz to a 94-81 victory over the Phoenix Suns at EnergySolutions Arena. Paul Millsap donated a double-double with 18 points and 13 boards, while Jamaal Tinsley handed out 14 assists without scoring a point for the Jazz, who improved to 3-0 as the hosts this season. Luis Scola scored a team-high 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and Jared Dudley chipped in 16 points in the setback, snapping the Suns' two-game win streak.

San Antonio 112, Portland 109
Manu Ginobili made the go-ahead free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining, as the San Antonio Spurs solved their problems at the Rose Garden by pulling out a 112-109 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. San Antonio trailed by as many as 14 in the third quarter before Gary Neal, playing crunch time minutes with Tony Parker out with the flu, sparked the comeback with 15 fourth-quarter points. Neal finished with a career-high 27 points, Ginobili had 17 and Tim Duncan chipped in 22 points and nine boards for the Spurs, who snapped a seven-game slide in Portland dating back to the 2007-08 campaign. Nicolas Batum matched his career high with 33 points, and LaMarcus Aldridge netted 29, but both missed from long range in the closing seconds in Portland's third straight loss.

Denver 107, Golden State 101 (2-OT)
Danilo Gallinari started slow, but caught fire in the second half and overtime. Gallinari netted all 21 of his points over the final 34 minutes, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 35.9 seconds left in double overtime, in the Denver Nuggets' 107-101 win over the Golden State Warriors. Gallinari went 0-for-9 from the floor in the opening half, but finished the contest 8-of-12 for Denver, which concluded the game on an 11-0 run. Kenneth Faried tallied 18 points and 17 rebounds in the win. Klay Thompson had 23 points and Carl Landry added 22 off the bench for the Warriors, who have lost three of their last four contests.

Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari celebrate as the
Nuggets downed the Warriors in 2 overtimes.
(image by Ben Margot/AP)

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