NBA PM: Jrue Holiday Prepares for Derrick Rose, Bulls
A lot has been written about how the Philadelphia 76ers finished their season.
At one point, they seemed destined to cruise to an Atlantic Division crown and a possible third seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Yet they needed a win over the Nets on Monday in New Jersey to secure a playoff berth; and since coach Doug Collins sat Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala for the final two games of the season—a win and a loss—the 76ers are now settling for the eighth seed and a first-round matchup with the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.
Of course, the 76ers had a late-season swoon last year, losing five of their last six games, which forced them into a first-round matchup with a heavily favored, second-seeded Miami Heat team. And while Philadelphia ultimately lost in five games, they did play well in defeat in Games 1, 3 and 5, not to mention a dramatic 86-82 Game 4 win in which Lou Williams hit the deciding 3-pointer over Dwyane Wade.
Philadelphia ultimately wasn’t up to the challenge last season, but they’re back this year with practically the same team and a few key differences—specifically, more experience.
“Getting that year under our belt really does help us just to know what to expect,” point guard Jrue Holiday told HOOPSWORLD. “Again, we were hoping that we would have home court advantage but I think playing against Miami who was one of the best teams in the league, second best team in the league really helped us.”
But the 76ers have more than just experience going for them. The team has spent the last few years trying to fill the void at center and thanks to the selection of Nik Vucevic in last year’s draft as well as the emergence of Spencer Hawes, Philadelphia is finally getting some production down low.
The 76ers have gone from 20th in the league to points in the paint allowed to 12th and they finished with the third-best defensive efficiency in the league (points allowed per 100 possessions). As Holiday points out, a lot of that has to do with Vucevic, who ranks 30th in the entire NBA in rebounding rate, just behind Knicks center Tyson Chandler.
“Rebounding,” Holiday said when asked what Vucevic brings. “He’s one of those guys who always gets a tip or a hand on a ball which is definitely big for us because we aren’t that good at rebounding, we haven’t been rebounding that well this year. I think that really does say a lot, especially defensive rebounding, securing balls, not giving teams second shots.
“Nik’s not really a shot blocker but he’s still a big body,” Holiday continued. “I can’t really gamble because I’m going against people like Deron Williams who can convert on that but it does give a sense of security knowing that if you get beat, not only are the guard teammates going to help but you have a big down there to disrupt some stuff.”
But the key defensive matchup for the 76ers heading into their first-round battle with the Bulls is Holiday against reigning MVP Derrick Rose.
Rose overcame a litany of injuries this season to finish ninth overall in Player Efficiency Rating, and even though he’s had groin and ankle issues, the Bulls’ leader is still capable of beating opponents with his speed or his size (6-3).
However Holiday stands 6-4 himself and he’s a major reason the 76ers have held opposing point guards to just 18.6 points per game (eighth in the NBA).
“That’s exciting,” Holiday said of defending Rose. “That’s what the playoffs are all about. That’s what basketball’s all about. Going against Derrick Rose, he’s the MVP last year, one of the toughest guards in the league.”
Before sitting out in the final game of the season against Detroit on Thursday, Holiday had been playing well, averaging 18.6 points and 5.3 assists per game in wins over the Nets, Pacers and Cavaliers. And while two of those teams aren’t great, the Pacers have won eight of their last 10.
“I think (the Pacers game) kind of gave us a boost,” Holiday said. “They’ve been probably the best team in the league this last month and getting that win in overtime and really locking in and locking arms I think really helped us.”
The 76ers lost to the Pacers only a few days earlier, but the point is, this is a team that can put fear into a third seed like the Pacers, or even a first seed such as the Bulls.
“I think so,” Holiday said when asked if teams should be scared to face the 76ers. “Again, we have the potential to be one of the best defensive teams in the league and we showed that in the beginning of the year, and I think the playoffs just kind of gives us that extra edge that we need to step up.
“Kind of going in as an underdog,” Holiday concluded, “we have to fight for ourselves.”
The Bulls and 76ers tip-off in Game 1 of their first-round series from Chicago on Saturday at noon.
Byron Mullens Sits Down With HOOPSWORLD’s Steve Kyler
Pippen Believes Jackson Will Return
Bulls legend Scottie Pippen told ESPN 1000 in Chicago that he believes the 66-year-old Phil Jackson will return to coaching.
“I do,” Pippen said,” as quoted by ESPNChicago.com “I think he had definitely run his course in L.A. He had had a lot of success there and had some up-and-down situations, but I think all in all it was probably good for both sides for him to move on.
“But yeah, I do see a lot of basketball left in Phil,” Pippen continued. “He still has a great mind, a lot of knowledge. I know for a fact he had some physical problems going on with him that he needed to take care of. He’s underway with that right now. So hopefully his recovery and everything goes well.”
And while Pippen does think that interim Knicks coach Mike Woodson has done a great job in a limited amount of time this season, he insists Jackson is at “another level.”
“You’re talking about immediate success, based on his track record,” Pippen said. “Phil would definitely be a great fit, a former Knick player, a guy who always sort of eyed that New York market, so I definitely think it would be a great win-win situation for both.”
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