We’re only eight games into the season — about 12 percent of the way —so drawing broad conclusions is tough. But it was hard not to look at a couple games Monday night and not have one particular question pop up.
The game first was the 76ers taking on the Indiana Pacers, two of the rising teams in the East. Indiana was without Danny Granger and the entire game had the sloppy feel of so many early season contests this year, but the 76ers controlled most of the second half and won handily, 96-86. They looked pretty good doing it, with quality offensive looks and solid defense —they looked like a team that could be dangerous as the season wears on.
Next the New York Knicks needed a whole lot of Carmelo Anthony and a few breaks down the stretch to beat the struggling Charlotte Bobcats.
Taken together it was hard not to wonder — can Philadelphia win the Atlantic division over New York and Boston?
Maybe. Before the season that seemed a real long shot, but now… they look as good as anyone else. If not better. As of Tuesday Philadelphia at 6-2 is a game and a half ahead of 5-4 New York and two games ahead of 4-4 Boston.
More than that, Boston and New York have really struggled at moments this season. The Knicks look like mismatched pieces not fitting a system, the Celtics look old at times and not as deep a team as they were.
Philadelphia looks solid. Especially on defense. They came into the game allowing just 90.2 points per 100 possessions, best in the NBA. The Pacers scored at a 92.3 points per 100 pace in this game. They do it by not letting the other team shoot well or get into their offense and that happened to a Pacers team that has previously looked good this season. The Pacers shot just 36.6 percent, with David West going 6-for-14 and Darren Collison 2-of-11.
On offense, the 76ers are looking to get out and run a little more, which suits them. If they get some easy buckets to go with that defense, it works. Andre Iguodala is looking more to facilitate, driving to draw the defense then kicking out for assists when the defense collapsed. Iggy had 20 points and nine rebounds to go with five assists.
Philly also got good play from their role players. When Spencer Hawes got in foul trouble trying to deal with Roy Hibbert, rookie Nikola Vucevic came in with 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Pacers will have better nights. They had strength inside but when the Sixers defense collapsed the Pacers didn’t make them pay on the kickouts, shooting just 4-of-13 from three. Hibbert finished with 19 points on 12 shots.
The Pacers were more balanced, with Lou Williams having 13 off the bench and six players in double figures.
We will have to see if Philly can keep up this level of defense for an entire season, how they deal with adversity when it eventually arrives as it does for all teams. But right now, eight games in, they look as good or better than anyone in the Atlantic division.