By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Sixers have been the most surprising team in the NBA this season, with a record of 12-5 (they were 4-13 at this point last season) and a 4.5 game lead in the Atlantic Division. They’ve been able to fatten their record and take advantage of beating some bad teams at home. Tonight, they look to continue that success against the New Jersey Nets at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers, who have four games at home this week, kicked it off with a 20 point win over the Wizards on Monday. The game wasn’t even as close as the score indicated. The Wizards, who were down 30 points at halftime, fired their Head Coach Flip Saunders the next day.
The Sixers are allowing 88 points per game, which is second in the NBA, while scoring nearly 100 points per game, which is third in the league. They’re also committing the fewest turnovers (11.65).
The Nets (5-13) start to the season has been the opposite to Philadelphia’s. They’ve got the 27th ranked defense in the NBA, and the 23rd ranked offense. Aside from Brook Lopez not playing a game this year due to injury, the biggest dissappointment has been the play of point guard Deron Williams. Williams, who the Nets got from the Utah Jazz in a blockbuster trade last season, was supposed to be the superstar building block for the team as they prepare to move the team to Brooklyn. Williams has posted career lows so far in field goal percentage, and assists per game.
Still, rumors of adding a superstar piece, most notably in the name of Dwight Howard, swirl around the Nets. The best case scenario would be pairing the Orlando Magic center with Williams. However, if they don’t score Howard, there’s a chance they could lose Williams via free agency after the season, and will have to start back at square one.
Regardless of his disappointing season, the match-up tonight with Williams and Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday will be one to watch. The Sixers were counting on a breakout season for Holiday, who has shown flashes of brilliance and and a few great games, but whose play has been largely inconsistent. Playing against one of the top point guards in the league will be another opportunity to see how Holiday measures up.
The Sixers, who were without starting center Spencer Hawes and backup Nikola Vucevic on Monday, will probably be short handed tonight as well. Vucevic may be ready to go, as he’s noted he’s feeling better, but Hawes isn’t likely to play. If Hawes’ condition doesn’t improve, it’s possible the Sixers could look to add a big man. According to Hoops Hype, the Sixers were going to work out center Francisco Elson on Tuesday. Elson, a 12-year NBA veteran, was briefly with the Sixers two seasons ago. It’s possible that they could continue to give minutes to rookie power forward Lavoy Allen, a graduate of Philadelphia’s Temple University. Allen had 10 points and six rebounds against the Wizards, playing his first meaningful minutes of the year.
Collins told the team that injuries shouldn’t be used as an excuse to lose. “My feeling is, when everything is good and things are going well, that’s one thing,” Collins said. “But when you start facing adversity, are we all going to pull together? I know one thing, there won’t be any excuses from my standpoint. I think our players know that. We’re not going to go out with the idea that because we’re hurt, it gives us an excuse to lose games.”
**UPDATE** Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News reported via Twitter that both Spencer Hawes and Nic Vucevic are out tonight.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report. © Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)