Game Preview | With Year Coming to Close, Momentum on the Mind

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Sizing Up the Sixers (28-46):
As Tuesday’s determined performance in Brooklyn demonstrated, the 76ers are going about their business as if they still have plenty to play for.

In Brett Brown’s mind, they very much do.

Over the past few weeks, the Sixers have concentrated their efforts on using the final chunk of their schedule to set the tone for another important off-season. Having now won five times in nine games, counting the 106-101 triumph over the Nets, the club seems to be on its way towards achieving this goal.

“We’re all built to remember what did you do last,” Brown said Tuesday. “It’s a human nature thing. I think that when you end the season feeling good about either the way the program is going, or feeling good about yourself as an individual, then it can be – but not always – an easier jump start into to having a serious exciting season of development, summer of development.”

Down the hall at Barclays Center Tuesday, Kenny Atkinson, Brooklyn’s first year head coach, offered a similar take on the significance that the home stretch of a season has for a young team, which he, like Brown, has been entrusted with leading. The momentum factor, both coaches agreed, is very much a real thing, and has the potential to produce positive ramifications.

In terms of the overall direction the Sixers are headed collectively, there should be little doubt about the extent to which the team has progressed this campaign, their fourth with Brown at the helm. Not to simplify things too much, but the first (and maybe only) place you need to look is the win column.

From an individual player standpoint, noteworthy headway has indeed been made on the whole this season, but especially in these final weeks of the year. A few members of the roster even seem to be peaking at the moment, when all logic would suggest their bodies have been stretched to the max.

There’s Dario Saric, of course, averaging 19.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and shooting 45.5 percent from the field since the All-Star break. Along this same split line, Robert Covington has produced 16.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per contest.

Youngsters Richaun Holmes (12.8 ppg, 58.8 fg, 6.5 rpg) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (8.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg) have been among the Sixers’ most encouraging post-All Star Game revelations as well.

Soon, the Sixers will head their separate ways, and, to a certain degree, be tasked with taking ownership of their personal growth heading into next year.

“There aren’t many jobs,” Brown said, “where somebody says you got six months before somebody says, ‘Go out and play a game again,’ and you get a chance to improve. I phrase it exactly like that to my players. When you look at that opportunity, it’s important that players embrace it, coaching staffs are on it, and the player is excited to jump into that new phase of development.”

The Sixers still have a couple weeks left before they arrive at this point of the calendar year. For now, there are still games to be played, and a chance, with 28 wins already under their belts, to establish a new mark for the biggest year-over-year improvement in franchise history (the Sixers bettered their record by 21 wins from 1998-1999 to 1999-2000).

“I’m proud of what we’ve endured,” Brown said Tuesday, alluding to the strides the Sixers have made, in spite of the string of injuries that have hit the team. “Last year, we won 10 games. I’m proud of the progression that the program has made. I’m proud of the progression that our players have allowed us to coach them, and they have had individual improvement. Those types of things most come to my mind.”

Sizing Up the Hawks (38-36):
It’s been a turbulent two weeks for Atlanta, which, prior to Tuesday’s 95-91 home victory over Phoenix, had dropped seven consecutive games in untimely fashion. The skid essentially knocked the Hawks out of contention for home court advantage in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and now has them fighting to solidify a spot somewhere between fifth and seventh place in the standings.

On February 22nd, the Sixers and Atlanta agreed to terms on a trade that resulted in Ersan Ilyasova being moved to the Hawks. Since joining what is now the fifth team he’s played for in the past two seasons, the steady power forward has been used mostly in a reserve role, averaging 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. The 30-year old has started as of late due to an injury to Paul Millsap.

In 53 appearances with the Sixers, Ilyasova put up career numbers. He accounted for 14.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per tilt, while shooting 35.9 percent from 3-point territory.

Series History:
Recent history has not been kind to the Sixers in respect to their rivalry with Atlanta. They’ve lost 13 of the last 14 meetings between the teams, including six in a row. During the Sixers’ current slide, the Hawks’ average margin of victory has been 26 points.

In one of the top performances by a Sixer this year versus Atlanta, Robert Covington registered a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double at Philips Arena on January 21st. The Hawks took the game, 110-93, and have also knocked off the Sixers this season by scores of 104-72 and 117-96.

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Philadelphia News & Search

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