By Dennis Berry
We are a third of the way through the NBA's reduced 66 game schedule this year. When you look at the top of the league, the teams you expected to be there are.
The Chicago Bulls have the most wins in the league. The Oklahoma City Thunder have the second most wins in the league. The Miami Heat are tied for the third most wins.
The team they are tied with? The Philadelphia 76ers.
Raise your hand if you expected to see the 76ers near the top of the NBA at this point in the season. Probably not many can.
When ESPN did its preseason predictions for the Atlantic Division champions, only two picked Philadelphia to win the division. The Boston Celtics were the favorites with 17 votes and New York Knicks got 11 votes.
Boston had a slow start to the season as they juggled the line-up because of injuries. They are starting to show signs of the team many expected. They have won eight of their last nine to improve to 13-10.
The New York Knicks? Even we fell for the Knicks' hype at the start of the season. Carmelo Anthony is now out for 1-2 weeks, but he has struggled most of the year. New York has terrible guard play, but perhaps they may have found help if Jeremy Lin plays like he did in a win against Utah.
So that let Philadelphia move to the top of Atlantic Division with an 18-7 record. Since the start of February the 76ers have picked up their best wins of the season. First they beat Chicago at home, then beat Atlanta on the road, and followed that up with a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. The only blemish in that stretch was a 20 point beat down by the Miami Heat.
So how has Philadelphia gotten out to such a good start?
When you look at their roster the only names that grab your attention are Elton Brand and Andre Iguodale. NBA fans probably know Tony Battie who has played for six NBA teams in his career. College fans probably remember Evan Turner from his days at Ohio State.
There just are not many big names on Philadelphia's roster. It is a young roster, with only three of the 14 players listed over 30 years old. With a weekly schedule that is jammed with games because of the shortened season, that is also a plus.
What the 76ers do well is play as a team. They have 11 players who average at least 10 minutes a game. Head Coach Doug Collins has done a good job of rotating players in and out of the game. Iguodale and Jrue Holiday are the only players who average over 30 minutes a game.
That leads to the 76ers being a balanced scoring team. Six players average double figures in points a game. Two other players â€" Tuner and Jodie Meeks â€" average nine points.
The 76ers leading scorer? Point guard Lou Williams leads the way at 15.5 points a game. That is impressive because Williams has not started a single game this season for the 76ers.
As a team they average 96.7 points a game, currently ranking them 12 in the NBA. They are 11th in field goal percentage (48.2%) and fourth in three point percentage (38.9 %). They are fourth in the NBA in assists per game (22.5) and only turn the ball over 10.7 times a game, ranking first in the league.
The area where Philadelphia really dominates is on defense. They are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. They give up only 86.6 points a game to their opponent, which is first in the NBA.
Opponents are shooting only 42% from the field (4th in NBA) and 30.7% (4th) from the three point line. The 76ers get an average of 8.9 steals (8th) a game.
Doug Collins has done a good job taking a team that was 41-41 last year and getting them off to a fast start. The 76ers are young enough that the hectic, game jammed weeks that the NBA has does not bother them. Neither does losing by 20 points to Miami, they turn around and win their next two.
Will the 76ers hold on to win the division title? Still too early to say, but right now they may be the best story in the NBA.
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