FROM 32,000 FEET, HEADING TO L.A. -- The news that has dominated the happenings of the 76ers the past couple of days has revolved around center Andrew Bynum and the revelation he underwent season-ending surgery on both knees Tuesday in New York. As has been the case for much of the season, the primary focus of the team hasn't been what's happening on the court, but rather what is going on with the balky knees of the prized offseason acquisition and when or whether he would ever make his debut for his new team. We now know that he won't put on a Sixers uniform -- definitely not the season and perhaps ever.
It is somewhat fitting during this crazy season that when news finally became official about Bynum's shutdown, the man filling his shoes is playing his best basketball of the season.
Spencer Hawes will not make people forget about what Bynum could have brought to this team. Perhaps no one on the team would have prospered more from playing alongside the seven-foot, 300-pounder than Hawes, as his hybrid big-man game may have been the perfect complement to Bynum's physical style. Either way, Hawes' inconsistent play throughout the season only heightened fans' frustration that the player who was supposed to be the foundation of this young group was sidelined by his knees all season.
Like every other player on the team, Hawes can only keep playing each and every night. Had he played much of the season the way he has the past nine games, perhaps the 26-40 record the team is carrying to its four-game road trip could be a bit better.
During a March 2 win over the visiting Golden State Warriors, Hawes was nearly invisible, as he missed all nine of his shots, grabbed only four rebounds and was removed for much of the night by coach Doug Collins in favor of Lavoy Allen. Worse, Hawes' mental approach, perhaps the biggest part of his game, was nowhere near where it needed to be to get him through such a drought. Hawes had little time to adjust his thinking, as the team played Washington the next night.
Hawes must have found some enlightenment on the train ride down to the nation's capital; in the nine games since that horrid Golden State outing, the 7-footer has averaged 14.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and shot 54 percent from the floor while averaging a little more than 31 minutes a game. He even threw in eight assists and seven blocks in a win over Indiana on Saturday.
He has been instrumental in a new offensive look for the Sixers that has produced a ton of ball movement over the past four games that has equated to 99.8 points and 29.8 assists a game, as well as a 3-1 record, with the lone loss coming to unbeatable Miami.
"I think our energy has been better and our focus and attention to detail," Hawes said. "We're moving the ball, and I think when the ball has energy, I think that affects us on both ends of the floor. Continuing to focus on that and being cognizant of that has helped us out offensively, and then, on the flip side, since we're scoring the ball, it doesn't put as much pressure on us to get back in transition.
"Coach has made a couple of adjustments with the offense, and I think a lot of guys are comfortable in their roles right now."
Two other key figures in the improvement are new starter Damien Wilkins and reserve Dorell Wright, who appears very comfortable in the role in which he originally was slotted, as first wing off the bench. Wilkins has scored in double figures in six of the past seven games, and Wright in nine of 10, averaging 13.8 points during that time.
"We wouldn't be playing the way we are right now if it wasn't for those guys' production," Hawes said. "We've seen them both do it before, I think it was just a matter of time before they settled in and we know what to expect moving forward."
That certainly hasn't been the case in any way for much of the season.
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