With a mere week remaining until the regular season kicks off, the Sixers starting lineup is starting to take form. Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand appear to be locks in the starting lineup, and the remaining two positions may finally be coming into focus.
Last night, in the last preseason tune-up before games start counting, Jason Kapono and Tony Battie both made their cases to round out the final two spots, at least until Spencer Hawes is able to return from his lower back strain. The starting lineup was +7 during its stint to start the first quarter and +14 during the first 8 minutes of the third quarter.
Even with the disclaimer that the Knicks were resting some of their best players -- Danilo Gallinari was out with a sprained wrist and Amar'e Stoudemire and Wilson Chandler did not play due to coaches decision -- the domination was impressive. Perhaps more impressive was the cohesiveness the starting unit played with.
"I think the more and more that we play together the more we understand what guys like to do and where [they like to be]," Jason Kapono said after the game. "Hopefully our chemistry will keep getting better and we can keep on playing as well as we did tonight."
The starting lineup has been changed frequently during the preseason, as Doug Collins and his staff tinker with combinations to find ones that work. The preseason started off with Iguodala and Thaddeus Young on the wings, eventually switching to Turner and Iguodala when Hawes went down with his injury and Young moved over to play power forward.
After trying that lineup out for three games, it appears another switch was made. Kapono has joined Iguodala on the wing the past two games to end the season, and it appears that duo might stay together, at least for now.
"Starting [last] Friday we started working with the group of Jrue [Holiday], Kapono, Iguodala, Elton Brand and a big," associate head coach Michael Curry said, still filling in for Doug Collins as he gets treated for symptoms related to a concussion. "Preferably, that big is going to be Spencer when he's healthy."
Despite working with the starting lineup for the last week, Kapono's not acting as if his starting spot is a sure thing. "I'm not [sure I'll be starting next week]. I'm not really too concerned about that. I'm just glad that I'm playing."
Uncertainty with his role isn't exactly something new for Kapono, who has started 85 of his 458 career NBA games. "I put forth all the effort and work, and I try not to let that bother me," Kapono said. "I've been through this throughout my career. I've been in a suit, I've been a starter, I've been 1 through 15 [on the roster]. I definitely have the experience of knowing how to stay ready."
More importantly, it seemed to Kapono, was staying in the regular rotation. "I played the first 20-25 games [last year]. It was the middle of year [when he fell out of the rotation]. Once the snow fell, that wasn't my time to play I guess. I'm a California boy so maybe [coach Jordan] wanted to wait until it was sunny outside," Kapono quipped. "I'm hoping coach Collins doesn't want that and I can play through the winter months."
For a team that invested the number two pick in the draft for a wing in Evan Turner, the team is hoping he and Iguodala can mend their games to play well together. Right now, it's hard to deny that Kapono's shooting helps open things up for Iguodala and Holiday.
"Obviously, [Iguodala and I] have a different skill set, but it's complementary," Kapono said. "You've got to try to find guys that play well together. Guys that can complement each other, that can play together and that bring out their strengths. I think that's what you have in [Andre and I]."
The starting lineup may not be finalized, but it appears to be taking shape. The last remaining question may be what big replaces injured Spencer Hawes until he returns.
It's sounding as if the team is expecting Collins to return back within the next few days. Collins is still making his presence felt, even if he's not physically with the team.
"Everything we did out there today, it was all scripted by him. He talked about the sets that he wanted to run, and put guys in position to be successful, and we just followed suite," Curry said.
"There were certain ways he wanted us to guard the pick and rolls, dribble hand-offs, stuff like that," Kapono said about instruction from Collins used in last night's game. "Obviously he's feeling pretty well [considering] that he's sending text messages and [making] phone calls."
Jrue breaking out of his slump.
After comitting 15 turnovers to only 7 assists during the first three games of the preseason, while averaging only 8.3 points per game on 29% shooting during that span, Jrue Holiday found his groove. The 20 year old point guard averaged 13.3 points on 59.3% from the field over his final three starts, while dishing out 10 assists per game to only 2.67 turnovers.
"I feel a lot better. [I] definitely had to figure things out, the players I was playing with, just really feel around it," Holiday said after the game "The coaches, they had my back."
Holiday and Snow after the game
Practically every television set in the Wells Fargo Center last night was tuned into the Phillies game, even in the players locker room. By the time interviews had finished and players started making their way out, seemingly everyone -- from media, to Sixers employees, to the players themselves -- had turned their attention to the Phillies. After virtually everybody had left to watch the Phillies or go about their day, Jrue Holiday and Sixers new color commentator Eric Snow remained in the Sixers locker room talking basketball. Snow may not have an official role in the Holiday's development, but it has become obvious he isn't going to shy away from trying to impose some of his experience on the young pupil, either.
Turner deferring to a fault
Turner made some nice moves with the ball last night, at least more than you would expect from a player who attempted only 1 field goal and no free throws in over 19 minutes of game time. Turner was a slow starter his freshman year at Ohio State, and you hope as he gets more acclimated to his role and to his teammates that he asserts himself more. That being said, it could be argued that the rookie has been too deferential during the preseason.