How good are the Sixers? West coast trip will tell

The 76ers are 5-4 as they embark on a five-game road trip. They could easily be 7-2.

Remember the meltdown at home against the Boston Celtics? Recall the lack of execution down the stretch against the Houston Rockets when Eric Gordon dropped in a 3-pointer at the buzzer?

Finishing games is one of the toughest lessons for a young team. Former player/coach/broadcaster Doug Collins always emphasizes how important it is to close out quarters, especially in the fourth. Veteran teams get it.

Young teams? Not so much.

The Sixers are improving, though, as evidenced by home wins against the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers. In the past four seasons, the results may have been different.

This time, they figured out how to close out the opponent. Baby steps.

“The first three quarters were going back and forth, but the fourth quarter we separated ourselves the way we executed our offense and then the way we guarded,” said forward Robert Covington after the win against the Hawks. “It allowed us to get out and really run. A lot of teams can’t keep up with us in transition. A lot of guys are really athletic we can outrun. Like I said, too many people can’t keep up with us when we do that.”

There will be games when the Sixers implode down the stretch. They will suffer difficult losses. But they’ll learn.

As long as the Sixers can figure out how to win some of these games, progress will be made.

“We’re such a different team than in years past,” said point guard T.J. McConnell. “We see it every day in practice. We are seeing it in games now and it’s a beautiful thing. We are gaining confidence every time out. The coaches trust us. We are trusting each other. It’s fun to see and we’re only going to get better and better. This is just the beginning.”

In the marathon NBA season, long road trips, back-to-back scenarios and the daily grind can be difficult for a young group.

Thus far, the Sixers are finally starting to overcome of these obstacles. They’re above .500 for the first time in four years.

The home crowd is loving the improvement, even if it comes with some discouraging losses.

“You go to Houston, you go to different places and look at the crowd, and there’s a good crowd but it’s not this crowd, it’s not the crowd we have at the Wells Fargo Center,” coach Brett Brown said. “We have, for the most part, sold-out gyms. To come into our own gym and have the fans be a part of what we are doing. I sit there and watch the tape and these are the things that I am reminded of watching the Houston game like, ‘Wow. we’re going to come in on Wednesday night, it’s not going to be that, there’s not going to be any empty seats.’ To be able to come here and share what we are drawing with our fans, let them experience some of the joy we haven’t had in previous years, this is a good thing.

“We want our home court being loud and proud, we want to give them something to cheer about. (Wednesday), I think, especially in the fourth period, we gave it to them.”

The next five games will be a benchmark for the Sixers. The entire season will be a measuring stick as to where they’re headed. It’s a solid start.

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