Wednesday , Jan , 25 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Are the Sixers a threat in the East?

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

(Sports Network) – On paper, Allen Iverson and Chris Webber make the
Philadelphia 76ers look like an impressive squad. The electrifying Iverson is
a six-time All-Star, while Webber has played in four All-Star Games and still
registers impressive scoring and rebounding stats.

Philadelphia’s dynamic duo had problems coexisting after Webber was acquired
from the Sacramento Kings on February 23, 2005. The two seemed to be out of
sync and there were no signs that things were going to get better. Webber’s
numbers were way down after the trade and it appeared that he was not going to
be able to jell with his new teammate.

Things are better in the 2005-06 campaign. There is a new head coach, as
Maurice Cheeks took over for Jim O’Brien, who was fired after last season.
Cheeks is more of a players coach and has tried to implement a system that can
showcase the talents of both Iverson and Webber.

Philadelphia’s one-two punch showed once again what it is capable of doing
during a 109-103 victory over Sacramento at the Wachovia Center. Iverson
finished with 41 points and six assists, while Webber netted 17 and pulled
down 13 rebounds in the victory.

Andre Iguodala contributed 11 points in the win over Sacramento, while sharp-
shooting Kyle Korver netted 14 on 5-of-11 from the floor, including 3-for-7
from beyond the arc. Center Samuel Dalembert ended with eight points and 13
rebounds.

The Sixers shot 48.8 percent from the field against Sacramento, including a
sizzling 46.7 percent (7-of-15) from three-point range.

“You would expect everything to be better then what it is right now,” said
Iverson after the win over Sacramento. “I said a week ago that we have given
away like eight games this year. Games that we just didn’t know how to pull
out, the close games we just couldn’t get. There were games that we were up
and we gave away and there were games that we were down and came back only to
still give them away. You just hope that all those games that we lost in the
beginning we can win those games now. I’d rather play better at the end of the
season then the beginning anyway.”

Are Iverson and Webber jelling in a way that can get Philadelphia to the next
level?

“I think its fine, but it always can get better,” said Iverson. “I think every
aspect of our game can get better. For the most part we have been all right
with both of us being up there as league leaders in scoring. That says enough
in itself, plus we have other guys contributing. We just need to get better on
both ends of the court.”

Cheeks has been trying to stress defense. Iverson is quick and small, Webber
and Korver are slow, but Iguodala and Dalembert are solid defenders and help
makeup for the deficiencies of their teammates.

“I think that we’re getting a little bit better on the defensive end,” said
Cheeks. “I think that’s where we’re going to make our move is on the defensive
end. Again, tonight (against Sacramento) was not one of our better defensive
games. I think when and if we make our move, it’s going to be on the defensive
end. We have to get a little bit better. Again, Mike (Bibby) obviously was the
difference tonight for our defense, but I think if we’re going to make some
hay, we have to do it on the defensive end. I think that’s where we’re going
to have to move.”

The 30-year-old Iverson is once again one of the top scorers in the league and
Webber is scoring and rebounding. The supporting cast of Dalembert, Iguodala
and Korver has its moments. Is this enough to compete with the best in the
East?

Unfortunately, the Sixers are not even close to Detroit or Miami. Iverson and
Webber are attractive names, but they are not the right combination that will
knock off the Pistons’ starting five or the Heat’s Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane
Wade in a best-of-seven series.

Maybe Philadelphia could win a round in the playoffs if it can capture the
Atlantic Division and grab one of the top three seeds in the East. But that’s
about it.

Team president Billy King needs to get Iverson and the 32-year-old Webber some
more help before February 23rd’s trade deadline if the 76ers hope to be any
kind of a threat in the Eastern Conference. For now, Philadelphia is an
average team that will have to battle every step of the way to simply make the
postseason.