Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Will the real A.I. Please Stand Up

There is something so familiar about Allen Iverson playing through injury and leading the 76ers to victory; something that just sounds, right. Since Allen returned to the starting lineup on December 28th in Portland, the Sixers have gone 3-1, which is of course no coincidence, and began to resemble something other than an Eastern Conference bottom-dweller for the first time all season. Although not putting up the same explosive numbers that once made him the most feared scorer in the League, solid statistics and smart play have allowed Allen to begin to save the sinking ship that was the Sixers before the superstar’s arrival. Despite being plagued by knee troubles, it appears as though Allen is finally beginning to hit his stride, as he becomes accustomed to playing more minutes and becomes familiar with his new/former teams revamped playbook.

Allen isn’t the one Sixer who has benefitted from his extended play and growing familiarity with the team. In fact, it appears that the team is beginning to “gel” for the first time all season, as the team has received great contributions from a number of players during the recent road stretch. Elton Brand, despite early qualms about coming off the bench, has performed extremely well since Allen’s return to the starting lineup, serving as the anchor for the second unit and proving to Sixers fans that he is not just a walking waste of $80 mill. Lou Williams, who many feared would see a dramatic cut in minutes upon Allen’s arrival, has actually thrived alongside his new running mate. The two provide the squad with a swift, quick backcourt that allows the team to play its preferred method of fast break basketball. Lou appears completely comfortable sharing the backcourt and the ball with the aging superstar, and this cohesion has been reflected both in his numbers and in the team’s success. Sammy Dalembert admittedly loves playing with Iverson, as the two became extremely familiar with each others’ playing style during Allen’s original tenure in Philadelphia. Sam feeds off Allen’s energy, evidenced by his recent tenacity on the defensive end and the seemingly nightly aley-oop between the two.

Yes, everyone seems to be thriving and content with the new lineup anchored by the future hall-of-famer; everyone except the city’s second A.I., Andre Igoudala. Igoudala who had began to grow into the team leader/borderline superstar role since Allen left town the first time (it may be worth noting that Igoudala seems to have been stuck in that phase for about five years), has not appeared so pleased to be again playing alongside the Sixers’ true A.I. it is no secret that there was no love lost between the two during Allen’s first stint in the city, and other than his explosion against the Nuggets during Allen’s first game back in Sixers uniform, Igoudala has certainly appeared a little “off,” potentially a result of an ego hit he has taken since Iverson’s return. Not only must Igoudala share the go-to-guy responsibilities with Allen, but he must share the spotlight as well. Despite still being announced last in pre-game introductions, a spot usually reserved for a team’s biggest draw, it is no secret who the city’s favorite A.I. is, and it ain’t number 9. Igoudala, who has been outscored and outplayed by Allen in each of the team’s last three victories, often looks hesitant to share the ball with Allen, rather trying to score on his own. For this team to be completely successful and live up to the true potential hidden throughout their roster everyone must be on the same page, especially both A.I.s. The original is doing his part; it’s time for Andre to do the same. If Andre is willing to scale back his role both on and off the court for the good of the team is yet to be seen, but one thing is certain; the Sixers are fun to watch again, and are slowly climbing their way up from the bottom, due in no small part to the return of number 3.


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