After the 76ers 94-82 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Martin Luther King day, the 10-3 76ers sit at first place in the Atlantic Division by a comfortable 4 game margin over the New York Knicks. As the days go by, now with nearly 20% of this shortened NBA season in the books, the reality of the 76ers having a chance to win the Atlantic Division sets in.
"The other day, I said 'guys, if you don't think we can win the Atlantic Division this year, you're making a mistake'," Sixers head coach Doug Collins told the media. "I firmly believe that. I want us to have high standards."
The Atlantic Division is certainly up for grabs. Boston is looking old and sluggish, a shell of the team that has one 4 straight Atlantic Division titles. Losers of 5 straight, with the big 4 playing in all 5 games, Boston may be fighting for a playoff spot more-so than the Atlantic Division title, and may be sellers at the trade deadline rather than buyers. Their advanced age likely doesn't bode well for a late season surge, either.
The second place Knicks have lost 3 straight, and while their defensive performance has been better than expected (although coming back down to earth), they haven't excelled in any one individual area. Already a flawed team with shaky point guard play, the fact that Amar'e Stoudemire is having by far the worst season of his career is troubling for the Knicks. Is this rust, or is this a player with 21,000 NBA minutes starting to break down?
While divisions aren't normally won in the first month of the season, the start the Sixers have gotten off to is a great deviation from years past. While most expected the Sixers familiarity in terms of personnel and coaching staff would benefit them in the condensed NBA season, the Sixers have exceeded most reasonable expectations so far.
The Sixers started off last year 3-13, but that was hardly the only poor start in recent memory. The previous year, under Eddie Jordan, the team started out 5-18. 2008-2009 was only marginally better at 9-14 and in 2007-2008 they started 5-13. After those starts (.454 winning percentage), the team would finish those seasons a combined 127-121 (.512%). Poor starts had become a yearly problem.
"It just feels good to win early on," Iguodala said. "We usually start off struggling, but we're usually resilient and we're usually playing hard, so it's good to see the hard work paying off."
"We're familiar with each other, and that's showing on the court," Iguodala explained. "That's definitely there that we're familiar with each other and we communicate [well]."
While the Sixers early season schedule, despite the road trip to start the season, has been largely against lesser teams, the way the Sixers have taken care of teams has been extremely impressive. The Sixers are 3rd in the league in points per 100 possessions and 1st in the league in opponents points per 100 possessions, giving them the best differential in the league. They're first in effective field goal percentage against, 1st in turnover rate, and have given up the 4th fewest free throws in terms of free throw rate.
"If you're losing, you're losing. But if you're winning, it's like 'who are you beating'," Collins explained. "I don't get into all that nonsense."