76ers finally showing some promise

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The last 17 games have given the 76ers something they were sorely lacking for much of the season – hope.

After a dreadful 1-30 start, the Sixers have won six of the last 17 games, including a 113-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Now, a 6-11 record isn’t going to be a prelude to a parade down Broad Street.

But it’s a heck of a step forward after one win in their first 31 games. Their last two games showed a gritty effort in a loss at Detroit and a stirring comeback and narrow three-point defeat to the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The Sixers trailed by 24 and even by 10 with two minutes remaining before tying the game at 105. Only a dagger 3-pointer by Harrison Barnes spoiled the upset. At 7-41, it looks as if the Sixers won’t set a dubious mark originally set by the 1972-73 Sixers with just nine wins.

There appears to be hope. In this lost season, that’s saying something.

“It’s huge to get some wins,” said guard Nik Stauskas, who played one of his best games all season with 15 points, four assists and four rebounds against the Suns. “We were playing hard earlier in the season but weren’t seeing the wins. I think it became a mental game for us. We’re getting some wins and it feels great. It’s good for our confidence, especially since we’re putting the work in.”

When Jerry Colangelo came aboard recently as Chairman of Basketball Operations, pieces start to fall into place. The Sixers re-acquired point guard Ish Smith and coaxed Elton Brand out of retirement to add a veteran presence on the bench.

The Sixers clearly have miles to go, but you can see a different team than the one from the early part of the season. Yes, there will be clunkers like the ugly setback to the Boston Celtics last Sunday night.

For the most part, the Sixers are playing with more energy. It’s noticeable.

“I believe that for sure,” said Smith, who nearly had a double-double with 20 points and nine assists against the Suns. “We have a team mentality here and we’re here to pick each other up. We knew we had to bounce back from that bad game and we did (against the Suns).”

Smith posted impressive numbers of 16 points, nine assists, five rebounds and four steals against the Warriors. It was yet another impressive performance by Smith and the Sixers.

“We never stopped playing or believing in ourselves,” Smith said. “We just kept playing. That’s what we do.”

Coach Brett Brown has remained positive through all the losses over the last two-plus seasons. It’s rare when he’s publicly agitated. He was visibly upset after the loss to the Celtics and didn’t hide his feelings.

“I was embarrassed the other night against the Celtics,” Brown said.

After their latest win against the Suns?

“I feel like there was a competitiveness and a toughness in our group that we had to have,” Brown said.

The schedule won’t lighten up much. The Sixers are the underdog on just about every night from here on out. They know that and understand why.

But they’re playing better. They’re giving the fans hope. And that’s immense heading into an important offseason, which could include as many as four first-round draft picks and the potential signing of forward Dario Saric. If Joel Embiid can come back healthy after a two-year absence, there’s hope all around.

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