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The Knicks made the trade in late February and mortgaged their young, developing talent for one of the leagues top talented players in Melo. Two mega stars and an aging battle proven veteran in Billups arrived in the Big Apple. Mission accomplished Dolan, the Knicks have won, well not really. To date they have not won very often since Melo’s arrival, at least not at the pace fans expected. Experts chalked it all up as not enough time to play together. However, for some reason the Nuggets didn’t need the playing time together as they near the 50 win mark this season.

Irregardless, last night the Knicks did win, barely like most of their wins since Melo joined the team. The Knicks usual game plan was in place. Score early and often, then fall apart and then hang on for a win, or at other times this season, they just lose. These 76ers have no superstar so why would they beat a team with two of the leagues elite?

Doug Collins took over a team that was essentially in a rebuilding phase. Last season, the 76ers won only 27 games and grabbed the second pick in the NBA draft. Evan Turner was the choice but nobody expected greatness out of him. Instead, ET was the ‘safe’ pick in an otherwise very weak draft. Otherwise, the 76ers held their ground in the high stakes pursuit of free agents in the 2010 offseason while the Knicks shopped heavily. By all accounts, the 76ers were counted out of the playoff race for this season and even started off 3-13. Then, Collins made them believe in each other and his system, things clicked, they began winning games, however nobody would have put them on paper before this season and believed they were better then the current Knicks roster.

Before last night’s game, the 76ers could have easily accepted the loss, waited for the game to end, and moved onward. Sure they were tired after the game with Boston the night before but they only rested for three quarters of Wednesday nights game. Then they awoke with a fire, spurned by Thaddeus Young off the bench. There will be no back to back games in the playoffs.

Struggling to shoot 38 percent from the floor during the first three quarters with a defense that appeared out of sync and trailing by as many as 19. The 76ers seemed content to fall into the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference. Of course, ultimately, the 97-92 defeat busted them out of the No. 6 seed with a 40-39 record, but not before the Sixers made it interesting.

Coach Collins said afterwards, “We were dead in the water tonight and like a typical Sixers’ team this year, we fought, fought, fought.”

“Somehow we had a one-point lead and our defense was brilliant in the fourth quarter. I don’t know how many shot-clock violations or how many tough shots we forced them into. We finally got out on the break and got some baskets.”

“If you would say, you get beat by 27 points at the three-point line, your starters, other than Elton Brand are 12 for 47, and you’re up one and toilet bowl a three to put you up four late in the game, I think you probably would have thought I was crazy.”

Coach, we saw it, both the 76ers fans and the Knicks players. It was evident, defense wins games and you don’t earn any points in the standings for moral victories. You either win or lose.

Great teams know that defense creates offense. Defense is the starting point for everything with the 76ers, so when the fourth quarter rolled around and the shots started to fall finally, it was plainly obvious where they came from.

Yes, it was the defense that spurred the late charge in the fourth quarter. At the same time, it was the defense that helped put the 76ers in the mess, too. In the end, the 76ers didn’t have enough defense to stop Carmelo Anthony from dropping in a long three-pointer – his only basket of the last quarter – with 11.8 seconds to go in the game to seal it.

That shot from Anthony was one that a defense can’t stop.

A shot that went down only to spin out was a corner three-pointer from Jodie Meeks with 1:59 to go in the game. Just 47 seconds prior, Meeks finished a fast break with a driving layup to give the 76ers a one point lead to erase the 19 point, second-half deficit. After Brand blocked a shot taken by Anthony, the Sixers had a chance to push the lead only to miss by a spin of the ball.

Nevertheless, the 76ers can live with the outcome because of the last-quarter effort.

There is evidence of that in the fourth where the 76ers held the Knicks to 29.4 percent shooting, blocked three shots and forced a couple of turnovers. As a result, the Sixers outscored the Knicks 16-2 on fast-break points in the last frame and very well could have put the game away.

Only some shots didn’t fall.

The three games they have since lost, Lou Williams was injured. Does make you wonder? Yes, this team is not far from the Knicks, actually when healthy this team is better then the Knicks. Coach Collins believes it and therefore the 76ers players know it.

Insert Doug Collins and the Philadelphia 76ers drastically improve.  Unlike the NY Knicks who, out of obvious necessity, unloaded their entire roster for this season (then again during this season), the 76ers kept their core intact and it’s paying dividends.  An extremely young roster, new coach Doug Collins made them believe in each other, educated them when they lost (early & often in the first 26 games), and has enabled them to win. 

On Friday, the 76ers clinched a spot in the playoffs and two days later they lost the teams most dangerous player especially when the game is on the line.  Lou Williams injury during the Bucks game on Sunday, with playoff positioning on the line, is another opportunity for Collins to continue teaching his young team.

When Williams is in the lineup, Philadelphia is a good team.
They are a top 10 defense, have one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and maximize their offensive talent by limiting turnovers while working towards quality shot attempts. Without Lou on the court, the 76ers remain a defensive beast, but suffers painfully on offense.  Already challenged to create shots, the team has lost the one guy who has and will successfully take the much needed shot whether its to change the momentum mid-game or win it with a deep three.

I know, overstatement for a guy who only plays 23 mins a game and tends to shoot the ball without much regard at times.  Lou is the point guard off the bench but the guy hits the floor like a Lamborghini on an open road.  He creates the shots necessary to keep the foot on the throat of the opposing team while starters rest.  When they lockdown with defense Lou breaks them down. 

Lou is the best scorer the 76ers have and the guy you look to when things are going awry.  He gets to the line and frees teammates.  He makes up for his sub-par shooting percentage by getting to the foul line with incredible frequency.

There’s a reason, after all, that Williams is a part of many of Philadelphia’s most successful lineups. Whether he controls the ball or plays off of it, Williams has been the Sixers’ most productive offensive player this season. That’s not something that’s easily replaceable, even for a coach as savvy as Doug Collins.  While he may be the NBA’s Mr. Miyagi, coach Collins does not yet have the grasshopper in Evan Turner to fill Lou’s role.  If he does not return healthy by the first game of the playoffs, it may spell an early exit.