Underrated Sixers fight for respect

"Philadelphia is the only city where Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt.

The Sixers could only gain a victory on the scoreboard Wednesday. They weren't about to win any respect.

Spending a few minutes in the pre-game press area with the Eastern Conference- leading Bulls in town made that pretty clear. Whenever this plucky, overachieving 76ers group wins, it's wait until Chicago or Miami comes to town.' Whenever they lose, it's 'I told you so.'

Well the Bulls came to the City of Brotherly Love on Wednesday and left with a lance or two in their backs as they boarded a bus for New York City. Bullfighting analogies aside, this Sixers team has quickly morphed into the Rodney Dangerfield on the NBA. They can't get any respect.

Before the game I overheard one Philly-area radio host bemoan that the Sixers just didn't have the firepower to keep up with a Bulls team minus Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton. Another writer said he thought the best Philadelphia could hope for in a seven-game murderer's row stretch that included games against Orlando, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, the Lakers, San Antonio and the Clippers was 2-5.

Well, after Philadelphia blitzed the "best team in the East" by a 98-82 margin, they've already got their two with five left to go.

So, the post-game narrative went in a different direction.

"Well Chicago was tired," I heard. "They were hurt" and Tom Thibodeau raised the white flag when things got out of hand in the third quarter, resting his starters so they would be fresh for a Knicks team with far more star power on Thursday.

That same kind hemming and hawing happened when Philly beat Indiana without Danny Granger or Atlanta minus Al Horford. Never mind the Sixers have been without their two top centers for well over a week, it's always about what the opponent is going through, never what the Sixers are overcoming.

Of course that didn't explain how the quick, ultra-athletic 76ers forced 17 turnovers on Wednesday night, scoring 29 points off of them, or how they amassed 21 fast-break points to the Bulls' four.

"They're quick to the ball," Thibodeau said. "Our reaction was very poor. They beat us to loose balls, second-effort plays. You can't do that. their speed and quickness, if you turn the ball over, puts them in the open floor."

I'll be the first to admit I was far from sold on this Philadelphia team coming into the season, pegging them as an eight seed and first round fodder for either the Bulls or Miami come playoff time.

It's a club without a star but a lot of very good players that play the game the right way. They are unselfish. They don't turn it over and they play every possession hard. It's a team with a host of ascending players and young legs in a truncated season short on off days.

It's a team that is now 16-6 after one-third of the season and on pace to win a gaudy 48 times. It's a squad that has won by 10-plus points 14 times this season and are outscoring opponents by a league-best 11.6 ppg. It's a defensive-minded group that has held opponents below 90 points in four straight contests and 15 times of the season (14-1).

"They're a good defensive team, making it hard, being scrappy," reigning league MVP Derrick Rose said. "They're a good team. They've got a lot of athletic people on their team, especially their wings."

But just wait until LeBron gets to Philly on Friday, right?

To be fair, on paper the Sixers probably don't match up with the Heat but I'm starting to think it's LBJ and D-Wade that should be concerned with the 76ers.

Doug Collins has this team believing in itself. That's how a second round rookie like Lavoy Allen, who wasn't even playing until Spencer Hawes and Nik Vucevic went down with injuries, can outplay proven contributors like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik.

For Collins it's all about beating who is in front of you and keeping things moving in the right direction.

"Play the teams in front you," the coach recently said. "It doesn't matter if you get [wins] in April, February, March, doesn't matter. Win at home and that's what we've got to keep doing."

Respect will eventually come but let's just say Aretha should probably starting warming up the pipes. It's almost time to sing for these 76ers.

"I don't think you can measure anyone now," Thibodeau said. "You have to wait until the end of the season to measure people but in terms of what I see right now, I see a very good team.

"They're well balanced, there's not one aspect of the game that they don't have covered. They can break you down off the dribble, they are good in transition and hey are great defensively, so they are right there with everyone else."