When Jrue Holiday pumped in 14 points in the fourth quarter of Philadelphia's win over New Orleans last month, he momentarily filled one of the Sixers' biggest needs: a go-to scorer. The surprising 76ers (14--6 through Sunday) are well coached and go nine deep, with seven players averaging double figures in scoring. Their energy and depth will serve them well in the condensed regular season, particularly in the Atlantic Division, where the Celtics are aging and the Knicks just appear confused. Still, scouts wonder who will step up when the game slows down—as it does in the postseason.
That could be Holiday(right), a 6'4", 180-pound playmaker with sneaky change-of-pace quickness and an improving (career-high 40.3%) three-point shot. "Jrue has so much talent," says Philadelphia forward Elton Brand. "When he's playing well, there isn't much he can't do."
A more reliable Holiday will be critical to the Sixers' second-half success. Despite superior size, Holiday shoots too many long twos (4.2 per game from 16 to 23 feet, ninth-most among starting point guards) and is just 36th among all point guards in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.74). If Holiday can improve in those areas, Philadelphia will have a dangerous option in the fourth quarter.
Here are four more players who need to pick up their play:
Metta World Peace
Los Angeles coach Mike Brown's decision to move World Peace to the second unit hasn't panned out: The Pacific Pacifist is averaging a career-low 5.1 points per game, and the Lakers' bench has produced a league-low 19.4. Brown said last week he is considering restoring World Peace to the starting lineup in the hopes of sparking a flagging offense that is tied for 13th in the league in points per 100 possessions (100.6)—and getting the Lakers (12--9, eighth place in the West) safely into the playoffs.
Much was expected from the Anthony--Amar'e Stoudemire pairing this season, but the Knicks (7--13 at week's end) have not been able to make it work. "They are both ball stoppers who like to play in the same area," says a scout. "They don't run plays for Amar'e because the ball is [often] in Melo's hands first." In the absence of a pure playmaker, the Knicks need Anthony to be more of a facilitator, something he suggested he was willing to do last week.
Poor conditioning (Dallas owner Mark Cuban says the team, as it did with Dirk Nowitzki, has considered giving Odom a few games off to get in shape) and uncertainty about his role in the offense have contributed to Odom's sluggish (8.0 points, 4.7 rebounds) start. Odom has not adjusted to Dallas's up-tempo attack after spending the last six years in Phil Jackson's triangle offense.
Utah (11--7 at week's end) is in the thick of the playoff race despite shaky play from Harris, acquired in last season's trade that sent Deron Williams to the Nets. Harris, 28, is averaging single-digit scoring (9.2 per game, down from 15.2 last year) for the first time in six seasons, and his assists are down (from 7.1 to 4.6) as well. Utah wants Harris, still one of the game's fastest players, to push the ball more, which he did effectively during his All-Star season in New Jersey in 2008--09.
Photograph by JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
PEACE OFFERINGS Dishes like this one to Pau notwithstanding, the former Artest Known as Ron hasn't contributed much to the Lakers off the bench.
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[See caption above]