If you believe in moral victories, the Sixers are 1-0.
For a team that has a lot more questions than answers at the moment, the Philadelphia 76ers' season-opening 97-87 loss to the Miami Heat went about as well as one could expect. While the final score is somewhat deceptive (the Heat led by 26 going into the 4th quarter), there were a few positives that one could take away from the Sixers' performance.
The starting lineups of the two teams represented a study in contrasts. In Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh, the Heat boasts (arguably) the best players at their respective positions in the NBA.
Conversely, at those same positions, the Sixers started a shooting guard who isn't all that adept at shooting, a small forward who can shoot, but provides little else, and a power forward who isn't very powerful or agile.
It looked to be the makings of a long night.
To the surprise of many, the Sixers actually held serve with the Heat for the majority of the first half. And aside from an awful 3rd quarter in which they were outscored 31-13, the team played relatively well considering the competition.
It was especially comforting to see Evan Turner look as sharp as he did in his first regular season game. Prior to Wednesday night, there was legitimate concern about the potential (or, more specifically, the lack thereof) of Turner -- the No. 2 overall pick in last June's NBA draft.
It would be reasonable to think that a player selected that high would easily be able to crack the starting lineup for a team that won 27 games last season. But success in the NBA hasn't come easy for the rookie out of Ohio State.
In the preseason, Turner averaged 7.7 points and 5.9 rebounds, but only shot 31.1% from the field, and looked out of sorts when the offense wasn't flowing through him.
Struggles aside, both critics and fans of Turner can agree on one thing: he is a more-than-capable ball-handler who will provide energy off of the bench and fill the stat sheet, as he clearly demonstrated against the Heat (16 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists).
For a rookie, he does a lot of things fairly well. The problem is, he doesn't do anything exceptionally great. But if Wednesday night was any indication, that will come soon enough.
"[Turner] played with poise, he played with confidence," said Sixers' coach Doug Collins in his postgame press conference. "It was a really good night for him."
Hopefully, it will be the first of many good nights for Turner. His successful debut aside, the fact remains that there are fundamental flaws with the Philadelphia 76ers that became readily apparent during Wednesday night's game.
The primary issue with the Sixers' is that their roster isn't constructed very well. Unfortunately, due to salary cap restrictions, and the overall lack of talent on the team, there isn't much they can do about it in the foreseeable future.
For the most part, the Sixers are a collection of big men who aren't solid interior defenders and/or rebounders, and wing players who aren't good shooters.
Small forward Jason Kapono, who has come off the bench for all but 86 games during his seven-plus year NBA career, is in the starting lineup simply because he's the only legitimate perimeter threat on the entire team.
Shooting prowess aside, the fact remains that Kapono is (at best) a mediocre on-ball defender, who will likely give up as many points as he contributes. And because of that, Kapono was limited to a mere 13 minutes Wednesday night, allowing Turner to display some of the promise that Sixers' fans have been (impatiently) waiting for since Draft Day.
And mark it down: the lack of an interior defensive presence will plague this team throughout the entire season. Exhibit A: The Heat were plus-25 when Bosh was on the court Wednesday night.
But while Bosh only scored 15 points, the Sixers were forced to make a concerted effort to guard him whenever he was on the low block, leaving others -- most notably, James Jones (20 points, 6-7 3PT FGs) -- with uncontested shots.
The Eastern Conference is loaded with skilled big men (Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez, Amare Stoudemire, etc.), which will inevitably lead to many sleepless nights for Doug Collins as he attempts to devise schemes to limit their impact.
Clearly, it's much too early in the game to make a qualified assessment on the Sixers prospects this season. However, it's not unreasonable for them to be markedly better than they were a year ago, and that statement alone is far more positive than the doom and gloom many local columnists and beat writers predicted before the season began.
Win or lose, the Sixers are going to give us a lot to talk about this season.
One down, 81 to go.