AUBURN HILLS, Mich — Who would have ever thought Lavoy Allen could be the 76ers' starting center when they open the playoffs this season?
Maybe it's a testament to how far Allen has come since being taken with the 50th pick in June's draft out of Temple. Or maybe it's a sign of how shorthanded the Sixers are at center right now.
When the team was mired in a four-game losing streak earlier this month, coach Doug Collins decided to shuffle the starting lineup, moving center Spencer Hawes to the bench in favor of rookie Nikola Vucevic. The thought, Collins said, was to put Hawes with the second unit, which includes Thaddeus Young, Lou Williams and Evan Turner. Collins said he liked the way Hawes and Young played together inside, giving the team added scoring punch and energy off the bench.
But Vucevic has struggled mightily of late, and Collins has now not only said that he won't start in the playoffs, which begin Saturday, but it sounds as though his playing time may be very limited.
Collins is still a fan of Hawes coming off the bench and has been playing Allen more and more. The Temple product pulled down 12 rebounds in 28 minutes, 24 seconds against the watered-down Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, just the sort of production Collins is looking for from the position in the playoffs.
"In order to be successful in the playoffs, we have to rebound," Collins said. "And our big guys have to be able to make jump shots." Asked whether he had gained more confidence in Allen over the past couple of weeks, Collins said: "Very much so, I'm very comfortable with him. Lavoy and E.B. [Elton Brand] and Spencer and Thad are my first four bigs, and based what I saw [Wednesday] Tony Battie would be my fifth."
After sitting 12 of 20 games, Allen played a little more than 29 minutes in a win over Cleveland on April 18. Since then, the 6-9 forward/center has averaged a little more than 21 minutes going into Thursday's game against Detroit.
With the news that he will probably see some major minutes in the playoffs, Allen handled it the way he has different situations all season long — with a nod of his head and a few quiet words.
"I feel good, feel about the same as I have all season," Allen said. "Whatever [Collins] needs me to go out there and do, I'll be ready. If they need me against Chicago, I'll be ready.
"You never know what to expect. The veteran players always told me to be ready at all times. It's been a little hard, the first year. The toughest thing was I really wasn't used to all the traveling and having three games in a row and stuff. It takes a toll on your body. But my body feels pretty good. I feel better than I thought I would. I get in some sort of workout every day, more conditioning than I ever did in college. I'm always on the bike or the elliptical, running sprints out on the floor. Anything I have to do to keep myself ready, I'm going to do it."
The Sixers Thursday played their fifth straight road game and ninth in the last 11 contests. It wouldn't be surprising if there were a lot of tired bodies.
But if you see redness in some of the players' eyes, it isn't due to a lack of sleep.
Wednesday, Sam Young took a finger to the eye in the second half, which forced him to miss the rest of the game. Saturday at Indiana, Jodie Meeks took a poke to the eye and is still sporting a lot of blood there. Andre Iguodala has been sporting a bloodshot eye since taking a poke from Mario Chalmers on April 3.
Not to be outdone, guard Jrue Holiday took an elbow to the nose in New Jersey on Monday and suffered and annoying cut that seems to open up every so often. Holiday got hit on the nose again on Wednesday in Milwaukee, but continued to play. The cut isn't big enough for stitches, Holiday said, but is still sore and quite annoying. n