Sixers hope to build on last season's playoff run
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Doug Collins preached over and over last spring the value of his young players being able to play in 13 postseason games. It enabled his guys to enjoy success and grow up on the job.
Consider Game 2 against the Boston Celtics. The Sixers were trailing 1-0 in the series, down 75-74 with 40 seconds remaining. Evan Turner drove the lane, split defenders and finished with a left-hand scoop layup. It was the go-ahead basket that propelled the Sixers to an 82-81 victory to even the series at one game apiece.
“I learned how to be a guard,” Turner said of that playoff run. “I think I deserved those minutes in the playoffs. That’s when it's win time, it’s when me and a few other of my teammates came to play.”
Jrue Holiday was one of those teammates. Holiday led the Sixers in scoring during the postseason with 15.8 points a night. Like Turner, Holiday wasn’t afraid to take and make big shots.
"It couldn't be anything but positive,” Holiday said of the playoff experience. “I never thought we would get to where we got. We still had an awesome chance of beating Boston, and going into the offseason was some kind of high just because we did what nobody else thought we would do."
However, since the Sixers did advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals and the front office orchestrated a four-team trade that landed an All-Star center to go along with key free agents additions, the team is no longer viewed as a sleeper.
“We did have some confidence going to Game 7 with Boston as well as coming into this year,” Holiday said. “We have a new team but expectations still stay there. Just being able to come back this year more excited to get back there (the semifinals) and do better. It’s going to be a fun year."
The hype and optimism felt for the Sixers in the City of Brotherly Love is not necessarily the thought process across the country. A number of national polls still have the Sixers finishing seventh or eighth in the Eastern Conference. However, those projections aren’t diminishing the high hopes of those on the team.
“I think the light at the end of the tunnel is getting a little bit brighter,” Turner said. “I feel like everything is going to keep getting better and better since we got the ownership and Coach Collins and Mr. [Rod] Thorn doing the right moves and things are going to get better and better and it’s all about progression"
One player ready to assist in the team’s progression is veteran sharpshooter Jason Richardson. The Sixers are his fourth NBA home but Richardson’s 11 years of experience ties Kwame Brown for the most on the squad.
“I pretty much have been through it all – trades, assistant coaches, young coaches, coaches that didn’t like me, not getting the ball. I’ve been through everything,” Richardson said.
“I can be a mentor to these guys, especially the young guys. I can help them through a lot of things if they are struggling with their game, if they are not seeing eye-to-eye with coach, whatever it is to mentor and also help this team on the floor.”
Richardson put his money where his mouth is the very first day of camp. After the evening session when the team scrimmaged with real officials, the veteran had strong words for his teammates.
“He got our team together and said stay off the officials,” assistant coach Brian James said. “We talked to the officials too much our first night. So even though he is new to the Sixers, we are learning from him due to his experience. We have a lot of confidence in him offensively as well.”