Monday, March 2, 2009

Hornets nail 10 triples, and the coffin

David West made it look easy.


It’s true, Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala are the clear-cut, no-brainer, leaders of this team. Miller sets the pace, Iguodala runs in it.

But lately, it’s become a theme that these two guys take over the game. And in some situations, there isn’t anything wrong with that. But in this case, it usually means the rest of the team is out of sync.

Against the Hornets last night, it was a valiant effort by the 76ers. In the end, New Orleans held on 98-91 behind 30 points and 10 rebounds from David West. Chris Paul had a relatively quiet 16 and 12 assists, but was certainly in the mood for finding others.

For the Sixers, Iggy and Papa Miller once again ran the show, while the other three starters struggled. Willie Green continues his desecration of the three-point arc, going 1-of-5 from beyond and 3-of-12 overall. Sam Dalembert played an uninspiring 13 minutes, scoring two points and grabbing four boards while looking genuinely disinterested throughout. Thaddeus Young struggled as well, hitting just five of his 12 shots in 41 minutes

-How can Andre Miller be a better shooter? The guy is filling it up lately, and we are finally getting the whole package from a guy who was destined to be a pass-first player his whole career. Miller is now shooting over 48 percent from the field and over his last five contests he is 41-of-68, a sweltering 60 percent clip. Miller is the undeniable MVP of the Sixers this season.

-David West is good. He smacked the Sixers around between 12 and 19 feet, hitting elbow jumper after elbow jumper. West made the defense pay for over-committing to the defensive switch. West and Paul together are one of the greatest combo’s of this new generation of basketball. The Hornets don’t play a fast-paced game, but they do so much in the half-court set. It’s your basic, run-of-the-mill pick and pop stuff, but it’s impenetrable from a defensive standpoint. When things are going well, it seems like everyone is open for the Hornets. That said, the Hornets shot over 60 percent from three, and most of that was predicated on the two man game. Paul and West found the open men and threes rained.

-Chris Paul hit a dagger late in the 4th, and is fast becoming one of those guys. He is beginning to show that killer instinct that few have. Kobe has it, Pierce now has it, Wade's still got it, LeBron is close, and Paul is joining him.

-Maybe the most impressive Hornets player was James Posey. He showed he was a glue guy last season with the Celtics and is playing the same role one again this year. With 16 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, Posey is the spark that is so vital when the postseason arrives.

-Why the Sixers haven’t moved Willie Green to the bench is beyond me. He is a shooting guard who cannot shoot, and for a team that clearly lacks that particular characteristic of the offense, it’s an ill fit. Replace Green with Lou Williams and go small, or put Speights in the lineup and move Iggy to the deuce.

-Speaking of Marreese Speights, the starting five from here on out should be: Miller, Williams, Iguodala, Young, Speights, now that I think about it. With Green not getting it done, and Dalembert becoming an increased liability, this has to be the lineup to go with. RUN, RUN, RUN!!!!

-The Sixers need some sort of change, they have become too complacent and maybe the joy of playing old-school basketball will refresh the players psyche. Or would that be asking too much? It’s become the No Balls Association, and this is one reason why. Too many half court sets, not enough flair. The Sixers need to bring the flair before the flame out.

-I do commend the 76ers on a nice comeback after a horrific first quarter in this game. They were quickly in a 21-8 hole and the second unit lit the spark and a 17-4 run ensued. That’s clearly why the Williams/Speights combo should be inserted immediately. No time to wait. The Pistons, Bucks, Bulls, and others are lurking.

-Sam Dalembert continues to disappoint. Instead of complaining, he should be trying to earn his $60 million.

Monday, February 23, 2009

4th straight loss could be a season killer

Looking at this picture may cause blindness or nausea. It's a half court game winner thats why.



Don't let this one get to you. Thats the best advice I can give.

After Devin Harris hits a fumblerooski 48-footer with Andre Iguodala in his grill to win the game, there's just nothing that you can do except shake it off. It's a fluke play and if you replay is 10,000 times, 9,999 times it goes your way. Hell, probably 10,000 times it goes your way. Not this time. If that makes sense?

This is the sort of loss that can sink a team, and the 76ers are right now on the cusp of a knockout punch. It sounds like i'm getting ahead of myself, because really the Sixers are still within the top eight teams in the East. But losses like this hit deeper.

They hit deeper because it was a game that after one quarter was 12 points in the Sixers favor. It was a game in which the Sixers missed 14 free throws in 37 attempts, an absurd amount on the road. That number itself basically gives you an amazing edge away from home; rarely will a road team see so many trips to the stripe. The Sixers also did what they do best, force turnovers, 16 to be exact. It was still not enough.

In trying to search for the positives, it's hard to get past one fateful play thats so freakish its hard to explain. All five starters got into double figures, led by Andre Iguodala and his 21. But again, the three-point shooting was non-existant and the free throws were even more of a gut punch.

All in all, loads of opportunities to win the game, yet the Sixers capitalized on none.

Willie Green finally snapped a streak of putrid basketball, putting up 14 points on 6 of 9 from the field. His two triples accounted for 66 percent of the Sixers output for the night, which is a good sign for Green, but on the whole, not so good for the team.

Sam Dalembert was an anchor in the middle; I guess the crying did wonders. He grabbed 10 boards and had three blocks, but again, had a few head scratching plays on the offensive end.

Defensively, there isn't much you can complain about. Outside of Devin Harris, who poses a problem for all teams, not just the Sixers, the Nets were shut down. Vince Carter had just 10 points and was ineffective in his 36 minutes. Keyon Dooling did hit dagger after dagger off the bench en route to 16 points in 30 strong minutes. Harris put up 39 points and per usual, made a team pay for their inability to stop a quick point guard.

Devin Harris is an incredible talent, and he got away with one at the end. It's one of those inexplainable shots that somehow falls. The important is getting past it quickly and while on that ride past Perth Amboy and Elizabethtown, looking forward to the task at hand. The lowly Washington Wizards are on the agenda. Not Devin Harris, not the New Jersey Nets, not a half-court, buzzer-beater to win it. None of that.

Though it does sting a bit, no?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Week in Review: Not good

Dalembert was seen wearing this


The All-Star break can be a help or a hindrance. In this case, it was the latter.

The Sixers came out of the long weekend and now find themselves losers of three straight, and in each loss the team failed to score more than 91 points. So much for pushing the pace.

In the three games this past week, their shooting percentages have been downright awful, hitting 38.5, 32.6, and 37.1 against Indiana, Denver, and Miami. Their three-point shooting has been a major problem as well, going 2-13, 4-13, 4-18 over the same three games. The Sixers needed to upgrade at the deadline by adding a shooter, but they could not get a deal done and are paying the price. They continue to heave up three's that they have no business shooting. Their so-called outside shooters, Willie Green and Lou Williams, are struggling. Williams is hitting less than 29 percent of his three's while Green is knocking down only 30 percent. It's hard to win in this league when you can only shoot inside of 18 feet.

While the defense has been good, it's just not enough to offset the ugly perimeter game. The inside game hasnt been there much either, as Sam Dalembert, an avid complainer, is not getting it done. Dalembert continues to make excuses, but the fact of the matter is, his offense sucks. He is complaining about a lack of playing time, but does he really deserve to be on the court for more than 25 minutes?

At this point, the Sixers best bet would be to go small and run, run, run. The lack of an outside threat hurts that notion, but the slowdown half-court sets are getting uglier by the quarter. They have the speed and athleticism to run people out of the gym, but shy away from the up-tempo game unelss it is off of turnovers. Instead of Dalembert, try Speights in the starting lineup and keep running. The rookie mistakes will be there, and the interior D may take a hit, but the fast-paced game would proivde the team a spark it really needs.

Luckily, Andre Miller's calf injury was not as bad as it looked, or the Sixers would be in trouble. He was fine on Saturday, putting up a season-high 30 points. But when your starting point guard puts up 30 and you're team as a whole scores just 91, something is missing. The 32-year old PG can't do it all, so someone needs to step up.

Andre Iguodala is somehow shooting 46 percent on the year, because his three point percentage is an awful 26 percent. Since the break, Iggy is just 13-40 from the field, and has hit one triple. For a guy who supposedly worked on his outside shooting, whatever he did didn't work. The $80 million man has to step up IMMEDIATELY.

Another loss or two, and the Sixers could be on the outside looking in. Thankfully Detroit is playing sloppy too, or this team would be sinking deeper. The fourth seed seemed like a reality seven days ago. Now, it's a fantasy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Trade deadline passes with a whimper

Worth a lot if you can find it.


All bark, no bite. That's normally how the NBA's trade deadline goes. This year was no different as a litany of mega-stars were in the news, but just a handful actually changed area codes.

Uhaul was on red-alert, but in the end just a few major moves were made.

The Sixers were not involved in anything, as their bargaining chip, Andre Miller, went down with a calf injury last night. That pretty much assured him he would remain a Sixer for the remainder of the year, which isn't a bad thing considering last night without him.

Miller's contract expires after this year, so the Sixers are still in the drivers seat regardless. They can resign him, or let him walk and reap the benefits of cap space in this dingy economic crisis we have on our hands.

As for the rest of the field, a few big moves went down on Wednesday, some of which included former 76ers and others with Philly ties. By my count at least 8 players (nine if you count Joe Smith's recinded trade) were moved at the deadline that were drafted or played for the Sixers, or have Philly ties.

In one of the bigger transactions of the day, Larry Hughes was sent from the Chicago Bulls to the New York Knicks. In exhange, the Bulls recieved Tim Thomas, Jerome James, and Anthony Roberson. Thomas is a former Villanova star and was a 76er for a year and a half to start his career. Hughes was drafted by the Sixers in the 1998 draft, but he too lasted just over one year with the team. Coincidence? I think so.

Hughes will be the two-guard Mike D'Antoni has coveted since they gave up on Jamal Crawford earlier in the year. Hughes will disappoint as usual and shoot a low percentage, something D'Antoni wont like. Thomas is an underachiver as well, but thats ok, he will be playing a backup role in Chicago.

Kyle Lowry's name had been in the headlines as well, as the Grizzlies looked to unload the backup and had entertained deals from Orlando and Miami, among others. He ended up moving to the Houston Rockets in a three way deal that involved Orlando as well. Lowry will now have a chance to start for the Rockets and will get a shot at the playoffs for the first time.

John Salmons was dealt to the Chicago Bulls with Kings teammate Brad Miller for Andres Nocioni and others. Salmons was on the Sixers from 2002-2006 and was part of the deal that netted the Sixers Chris Webber. Salmons is a very good offensive player and should fit in nicely with the Bulls.

Other former Sixers Calvin Booth and Michael Ruffin were also involved in trades as Booth heads to the Kings and Ruffin goes from the Bulls to the Kings to the Blazers in two separate deals.

Malik Rose, the former Drexel standout was also dealt. He moves from the Knicks to the Thunder for forward Chris Wilcox.

Thabo Sefolosha is a name you may not know, but was actually a Sixers draft pick 2006. He was dealt on draft night to the Bulls for the 16th pick, which ended up being Rodney Carney. Sefolosha moves from Chicago to Oklahoma City for a future first round pick. The Bulls were busy, no?

And finally, our dear friend Joe Smith, who made two tours to Philly, was nearly traded from the Thunder to the Hornets in a deal involving Tyson Chandler. That deal was nixed after OKlahoma City's team doctors found something wrong with Chandler. Smith is now looking for a buyout so he can join a contender.

And that's As the Trade Deadline Turns here at Thinksixers. Hope you enjoyed the lack of a trade deadline as much as I did.

The Wrestler was a great movie...


The movie "The Wrestler" was nominated for several Academy Awards, and I can now see why. Mickey Rourke plays "The Ram" an over-the-hill professional wrestler who is still hanging on to the glory years, stuffing himself with steroids while battling a bad heart. This engaging piece was provocative (lookout, Marisa Tomei!) and an accurate portrayal of what life must be like for a down-and-out ex-star who has no family, no money, and no conscience in the real world.

It was a hell of a movie, and if you think I've gone Gene Shalit on you, you're damn right I have. After the Sixers entertained me for an entire half, the third quarter got ugly. As the Nuggets crept back from a 16-point deficit in the first half, it became quiet obvious what was happening.

The Sixers were basically battling themselves, just as Mickey Rourke had in the film. A cause for concern is Andre Miller's calf injury, which should put a damper on all the trade rumors surrounding him. But the bigger story here is the lack of offense by the Sixers for the final three quarters. As a team, the Sixers managed to shoot just over 32 percent from the field, and also missed 10 free throws en route to a 12-point loss.

Andre Iguodala, responsible for Carmelo Anthony on this night, didn't have a chance. He fouled out in just 27 minutes as the entire Nuggets offense used him like a rented mule. Miller had been a bright spot before leaving with the leg injury, scoring 17 points and grabbing seven boards in just 22 minutes. If this is what its like without Miller, then I retract my previous post. Keep him.

Without Miller, the Sixers managed just 40 points through the final 19 minutes of play, while on the other side, Denver pulled away during this final stretch.

Marreese Speights did bring some intensity off the bench and put up a double-double in only 22 minutes on the floor. He continues to put up stellar numbers with the second unit in short spurts. Tony DiLeo and the rest of the coaching staff is really bringing him along nicely. Credit Jeff Ruland for working with the big man and keeping him focused.

But focus was not a noun in the vocabulary of the Sixers last night, as they shot out to a hot start, then faded miserably and looking amateur for three quarters. The first two games post-break have been disheartening. Effort has been lacking and the offense stagnant in the 96 minutes of play since starting back up. With Miller going down, there is no one to run the team. And a team currently struggling to score can ill-afford to lose their most consistent offensive threat.

Not what we had in mind for a stretch run. As they continue to 'wrestle' with their offense, I will continue to turn off the game when a great movie is on. Sorry, selfish.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Best bet may be to trade Miller


Hear me out on this. The Sixers starting point guard is 32-years old, has an expiring contract and is putting together a decent season. A contender could use a guy that has leadership qualities, albeit under the surface, burgeoning shooting skills and a keen eye for the open man.

Andre Miller can be yours if the price is right!

But in seriousness, the Sixers need to look at options in the next 24 hours. They have no cap flexibility, which in this day and age is brutal. And let's face it, the Sixers aren't going to win a title this year. We all know that they are still a piece away (thought Brand was that guy, dammit) and Miller's value will not be higher. If they can find a team willing to part with some draft considertaions for a player that could put them over the top, make the move. If it isn't something that works out for both sides, then your still hanging on to a very good point guard who could help get you past the first round of the playoffs.

Depressedfan.com has an amazing spread
on a few deals that could happen. Some are pipe dreams, but he does do a fantastic job of breaking down the salary-cap considerations within the piece.

Miami comes to mind, as they will be under the luxury tax threshold next season, even though they have taken on a longer deal in the Jermaine O'Neal trade. Miller would give them the PG they covet, and the Sixers could get back Daequan Cook and draft considerations.

Check out the depressedfan article.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Game Time

White out!!!
Who: Sixers (27-24) @ Pacers (21-33)

What: Don't let the record fool ya'. The Pacers may be 12 games under-.500, but they can strike at any moment. They play an uptempo brand of basketball that puts no premium on defense whatsoever. Their 107 opponents points per game is third worst in the NBA, and dead last in the East. Another telling stat is their penchant for fouling. On average, the Pacers opponent shoots 30 free throws per contest, also dead last.

Led by All-Star Danny Granger, the Pacers hang due to their three-point shooting. They literally live or die by it, and so far this year, they have died often. Indiana chucks 21 three-balls per game, making eight. That puts them in the middle of the pack in the NBA. Basically, all roads go through Granger and everyone else prays their shot is falling. They don't have much size in the middle, but are primarily perimeter oriented.

One awesome thing about the Pacers is the possibility of a white-out when all players are healthy. A white-out is five white guys on the court at one time, which happens about as often as a lunar eclipse in the NBA.

Where: Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN

When: 7pm, CSN Philly

Why (The Sixers need this win): It's all about the corny cliches; starting off on the right foot, making the most of a clean slate, making a stand in the second half, all of that B.S. applies here. The Sixers could be four games over-.500 for the first time since the 03-04 season (I kid you not) or they could drop in the standings and allow Detroit to jump them.

A win shows they are not rusty coming out of the break, which is important for this club. The Sixers had been red-hot since the start of 2009, and they don't want that to end now. Iggy and the Stooges need to show they are capable of winning on the road, but that won't be easy considering Indiana is four games over-.500 at Conseco. Something's gotta give.

How (The Sixers will win): Shutting down Danny Granger is a start. He averages over 25 per game, but has been slowed by a knee injury which has affected his shooting. Granger is hitting less than 40 percent of his shots over his last five games.

Other than Granger, it's about stopping the three's from raining. Pretty much everyone on the roster can pull from deep and without much of an inside game, the focus needs to be squarley put on the shooters like T.J. Ford, Troy Murphy and others. Stop the three, stop Indiana!

Prediction: Sixers win on the back of the D, which should cause some turnovers against a sloppy Pacers team. (Sixers W 108-102)

Monday, February 16, 2009

31 games to go


Stretch. Run.



There isn't much time left. Just 31 games remain in the 2008-09 NBA season, and in those 31 games, a lot can go right, or wrong.

At this point last season, Sixers fans were worrying whether or not this was a playoff team. Their 23-30 record was an abomination for those who though the team would take another step forward. Last year's squad used the All-Star break as launching pad, and the Sixers finished out their final 29 games with a 17-12 record. Overall, 40-42 is not normally a positive sign. But a playoff berth in the weak Eastern Conference set them up with the Pistons in round one, where an upset brewed.

This season, things were certainly different heading to the break.

The Sixers sit three games over-.500 (27-24) and are vying for the fourth position in the East. It's a progression that has been one year in the making, but hasn't come without the bumps in the raod. The team was supposed to be in this position, or an even better one than 27-24, after the acquisition of Elton Brand. Needless to say, everyone knows how Year 1 of the Brand Project turned out.

Without Brand's help, the Sixers must focus on the checkered flag at the end of the course. That flag is less than two months away, and waiting for them is yet another step forward.

There is plenty still left to be accomplished by this team. The main objective is to secure a playoff spot, however, that's not thinking big enough for this team. This is basically the same Sixers club that took the Pistons to six games in round one last season, so they are chomping at the bit once again to get back there and make more noise.

In their sights is Atlanta, just three-and-a-half up in the standings, clinging to a small lead over the fifth seeded Miami Heat. The #4 seed is #1 right now for the 76ers. With no shot at the top three positions, they would be wise to make a move north in the standings, so as not to deal with Boston, Cleveland, or Orlando in the opening round. It is certainly possible.

The priority of this team is defense. Through 51 games, the Sixers have struck fear into their opponents by swarming to the ball, causing turnovers at an alarming rate, and quickly turning those mistakes into points. It is the essence of this ball club, and to lose sight of that would be inexcuseable. The 76ers are what we think they are; a group of long-armed, quick-footed workers who tirelessly come after you every possession, every quarter, every game.

Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller are the stalwarts and will be looked upon for guidance down the stretch. Iguodala wants to show the world he is a superstar and belongs on the same court as LeBron, Pierce, and Wade. There is no better time to prove it than now.

Miller believes he still has fuel left in the tank, and not just for this season, but for a few more following. The veteran point guard has been a lead-by-example player, and his quiet motivation has not ben mistaken for weakness by teammates. Everyone on the Sixers understands the value that Miller brings to the table. He is their rallying point.

Sammy D needs to bring just that. And Thad Young and Willie Green need to be their shooters unless a marksman is brought in pre-deadline.

The Sixers bench has been outstanding as of late, with rookie Marreese Speights turning the corner quicker than anyone expected. But what was once unexpected is no required, and this team knows that they need outstanding play from Speights off the pine. Along with Speights, Reggie Evans will continue to bring passion and a fervency that won't even be asked. He simply brings it every night. Lou Williams has to take a step forward too, giving good minutes as a backup to Miller.

If the Sixers keep the pace with which they are at, a 17-14 finish would be respectable. But to reach the next level, they must outdo Miami and Atlanta ahead of them, and stave off Detroit and others lurking in the rear veiw.

It won't be an easy challenge either, as 18 of their final 31 are on the road. And still to come away from the Wachovia Center are visits to Miami, Los Angeles (Lakers), Phoenix, Golden State, Portland, Detroit, New Jersey, and Cleveland, among others. That's a tough road ahead, and in their way is a ton of desperation. Miami is fending off the Sixers, Phoenix is trying to turn their fortunes around, Portland wants to move higher in the West, and Detroit and New Jersey want to overtake the Sixers and their sixth spot. A lot of animosity is on the way.

It's that time of year again and the Sixers still have proving to do. But this time, they are prepared for things to go their way.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sixers first half review


It's actually not the end of the first half, since most teams are 50-plus games in already. The All-Star break is a nice defined line though that splits up the season and helps us decipher a beginning and end to the NBA year.

The 76ers began the year on a down note. They came out of the gate 9-14, Mo Cheeks lost his job, and Elton Brand began his Sixers career floundering. Tony DiLeo took over; the former Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager, and the team took off with him. Since his inception, the Sixers have gone 18-10 and now sit in the sixth position in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. Nice turnaround, I'd say.

While things haven't always been pretty, DiLeo has made it a priority to run more than they had through the first 25 games, and he has also implemented the three-ball into the game plan. The Sixers still rank dead last in three-point percentage, but it's a work in progress.

In breaking down the Sixers first half of the season, I will use General Manager and General Bad ass Ed Stefanski as a meter to guide you. With one Stefanski Head being bad, and five Stefanski Heads being downright awesome, let's breakdown the team through 51 games.

Offense:
-The offense gets 3 out of 5 Stefanski because it is still not where it needs to be. The shooting from the outside is horrendous, though the Sixers say they have outside shooters in Willie Green and Lou Williams. This is not a perimeter oriented squad; they are built to attack the basket and run out on the break. Their quickness has been exceptional, especially using defense as a starting point for the offense. They normally turn those turnovers in to points, which makes the offense look efficient.

Speaking of efficient, the most productive rookie so far this season has been Marreese Speights. No, he hasn't put up the same numbers as Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook or O.J. Mayo, but when he is given playing time, he certainly uses it to his advantage. Speights' game has soared in the last few weeks, culminating with a 24-point, seven rebound performance against the Suns in just 24 minutes of action. His PER (player efficiency rating) is through the roof at over 21. His true shooting percentage is also a paltry 57 percent, fifth for rookies. Needless to say, when DiLeo puts him out there, Speights rarely disappoints.

The stalwarts of the offense have been Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller. Iggy and the Stooges, as I like to call this team, have been able to make teams cower to them when they run the break, and that is predicated on these two gentlemen leading the charge. Miller is still putting together fabulous numbers at this stage of his career, posting, by far, a career high from behind the arc. His .333 percentage betters his previous high by about eight percent. He has the green light now, as do all of the Sixers, from the perimeter.

Iguodala has been on a tear since beginning the season with no 20-point performances through the first 17 games. Iguodala played the first few weeks with Elton Brand and seemed out of sorts. He figured it out once Brand his the injured list and hasn't looked back since. He's not up to 18 points per game and his peripheral stats are looking fine as well. Iggy is shooting 47% from the field, a career high, and 6.1 rebounds per game is also a career-best.

Other Sixers that have played well are Thad Young and Sam Dalembert. Sammy D leads the charge defensively, as the anchor in the front court. It's not always pretty with Sam on offense, as he still needs work on his post moves. He does have fairly reliable mid-range game though, but it's better that he doesn't put the ball on the floor, as it usually means turnovers.

Young is picking up where he left off as a rookie. His sophomore season is going exceptionally well, with his points per game jumping to 13.7 this season from 8.2 last. Young's newly found outside game has also been a blessing for this perimeter disoriented team. Not a bad first 50 though for these two front court mates.

Lou Williams has provided some pop off the bench, and Reggie Evans has given the team heart-pumping minutes. Willie Green can be special at times, but lacks a consistent outside jumper.

Overall, the Sixers still lack that shooter that could help space the floor. In many games early on, they have not seen consistent jump shooting, which could take them from average to above-average quickly. Still, with all of the trouble surrounding Elton Brand and his season-ending shoulder injury, the Sixers have stuck to their guns and gotten back to what they do best.

Defense:
-The defense is so good, they get four Stefanski's! The Sixers are holding their opponents to 95 points per game, on par with defensive elitists San Antonio, Houston, and Detroit. Forcing turnovers is their forte, pressuring the opposition into 16 per game, second best in the NBA. Another telling stat for this defense has been opponents shooting percentage, which is seventh best in the league at 45 percent.

Andre Iguodala and Thad Young lead the charge in forcing teams into giving up the basketball due to their length and quickness. Sam Dalembert gives them the anchor in the front court that can bang with the big guys. Dalembert is adept at shutting down some of the best, including Yao and Shaquille O'Neal recently. His penchant for blocked shots and timely rebounds makes him an interior presence that the Sixers cannot do without. Miller and Green do a fine job of taking on guard opposite them, using their size to their advantage.

Evans bench play usually brings people out of their seats and provides an unreal spark for the second unit. Through the first 50 games, Evans has seen himself in some big defensive positions, normally put up against the other teams power forward. And in the Atlantic Division, that means Chris Bosh, David Lee, and Kevin Garnett. Evans gets a A+ and five Stefanski's for his effort.

Coaching:
-I can't say I wasn't upset when the Sixers let Mo Cheeks go after just 25 games. I felt like he didn't have enough time to get this team in position to win, especially after trying to incorporate Elton Brand's different style in with the running team that defines the Sixers. Cheeks was let go, and the Sixers went on a tear up until the break. Whether DiLeo deserves all the credit is still up for discussion. DiLeo worked mostly without Brand, which seemed to be the problem. Cheeks failed at making Brand the focus of the offense, something that DiLeo did not have to do.

Overall the coaching between the two garners three Stefanski's out of five. DiLeo deserves credit for the turnaround, but Cheeks had little room for error, which was unfair.

DiLeo has allowed the team to unleash their perimeter game, no matter how sorry it is. That kind of thinking has given the Sixers confidence in that aspect of their game. They did not have a green light under Cheeks, which could have pressured them into make more plays inside the arc.

Although Cheeks did not get it done, he still should be praised for the job last season. Had he been in the same situation DiLeo was put in, he may have succeeded. The players have surprisingly taken to DiLeo's tactics and seems to be behind their new head coach 110 percent. All hands are on deck, which is vital for a young team still clawing for elite status.

Overall:
-The Sixers get three Stefanski's as they enter the break 27-24. They have played aggressive defense, which allows their offense to work freely through the fast break. It's clear the Sixers need to find a new shooter, and that could come at the deadline. However, their experiment with Brand went south quickly, and that was accelerated by his injury. We will have to wait until 2009-10 to see if Brand can connect with this group.

One negative has been the turnout at the Wachovia Center. The average attendance through 51 games is just 14, 747. This exciting team is not receiving the attention is should, but there are several factors that could be causing this downturn. Obviously the economy both nationwide and here in Philadelphia is a reason. People just don't have the money to come to an NBA game and spend $200 on tickets, drinks, food, and merch. It's no longer in the budget for most. Philadelphia may also still be riding high from the Phillies World Series title, as well as the Eagles run to the NFC Championship game. Whatever the case, go out and see these guys!

As it stands, the Sixers are making a run to the four seed in the East, something that seemed like a pipe dream in early December. The focus for the second half still has to be defense and intensity for 48 minutes. This team has talent, but they don't have the superstar that can put them over the edge in tight situations like a LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, or even a Paul Pierce. Andre Iguodala is blossoming into a fine player, and he may very well be the biggest key to success as we hit the end in April.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Grizzlies bite, but don't draw blood



Too close for comfort. I think that was a TV show with the guy from "Caddyshack". It was also the description for last night's Sixers/Grizzlies game at the Wach.

The Grizz are a monumental failure on offense, and showed it last night. They shoot just 44 percent from the field, which is in the bottom half of the league, and score just 93.2 points nightly. Offense is not their forte. So this should have been much easier, right?

Well it was a win for the Sixers; a 91-87 close shave as Andre Iguodala and Sam Dalembert sealed it in the end with two free throws. But this is yet another case of playing down to your opponent.

While the Sixers are not a great shooting team themseleves, they did manage to fire at a 51 percent clip last night, but somehow only scored 91 points. Nine missed free throws will do that to you. On the other hand, it was a decent defensive effort by the Sixers, forcing the sloppy Grizz into 23 turnovers on the night. The Sixers had just nine of their own, and when the TO differential is that high, it usually means a win. However, it wasn't that simple.

Hakim Warrick made it anything but simple for Iggy and the Stooges, putting up a career-best 31 points. Included were an array of slashes to the basket and posterizing dunks. Luckily, Warrick, the Philly native, was all the offense they could muster. Take away Warrick's otherworldly performance, and Memphis shot just 40 percent from the floor. When holding opponents to under 90 points, the Sixers are a paltry 11-2. So overall, an above average defensive job.

In my Game Time preview, I thought the Sixers needed to keep the ball from getting inside too often. That did work to an extent, as they held the Grizzlies center Marc Gasol to just five shots (he did make four, though). Warrick did get to the basket with ease at times, but most of the Grizzlies shots were from the outside, which I figured would bode well for the Sixers. However, the Grizz knocked down six three pointers on the night, meaning their hand was a bit hot for what they are used to. Missing Rudy Gay has gotten other guys involved, but clearly they are missing their most well-rounded player.

Offensively, the Sixers turned those 23 Memphis turnovers into a delectable 26 points. The name of the game for the Sixers is run, and while they didnt run Memphis back to Graceland, they got the win in the end. Their 19 fastbreak points were a sign of the swarming D, and then taking advantage of it quickly on the offensive end.


But this wasn't a win until the final minute, and you can thank Andre Iguodala for that. In the first half, his play was stale, scoring just two points in the first half. And that bucket came with just 53 seconds remaining. In basketball, it's the fourth quarter that counts, and Iggy made the Grizzlies pay for keeping him under wraps for so long.

Iguodala went nutty nuts, scoring nine points in the final stanza, and dropping the game winner on the Grizz with 25 seconds to go. He is becoming a man before our very eyes (tear).

The general, Andre Miller, was the only consistent offensive weapon for Philly, putting up a 24/9 line on the night. He has been quietly playing at a high level, using his distribution skills to keep everyone involved and displaying his new-found shooting touch from the outside. Forget about Iggy, Miller has been the real MVP of this team in 2009.

Next up: All-Star Break, Pacers 2/17

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Game Time

(That's me, # 10, second to left. To my left (your right) is a young Kyle Lowry)


Who: Grizzlies (15-36) @ Sixers (26-24)

What: The Grizzlies are a beaten up bunch, and have their tales between their legs coming to Philly. They have won two in a row, and when you have 15 wins total on the year, that's saying something. However, they have lost six of their last 10, and have lost two important players in the process. Rudy Gay is out with a hip flexor, and will also miss the All-Star Slam Dunk Contest this Saturday. Kyle Lowry, the Philly native and former teammate of mine in high school (name drop!) is out due to an ankle injury. (p.s. Check out my stats!)

As for the Sixers, spirits remain high following a huge win over the Phoenix Suns on Monday. The 108-91 drubbing of a former elite team adds to the big wins for the Sixers and proves they can hang with just about anyone. "[Philly] played well. They definitely came out and raised the intensity," said Suns forward Amare Stoudemire after the Suns were run out of the building. "We fired back, we hung in there. We had a chance in the fourth quarter to fight back and get that win, but we just couldn’t do it."

Where: Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, PA

When: 7pm (game 51)

Why (The Sixers need this win): If they lose, its a complete letdown. You cant blow out the likes of Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Shaquille O'Neal and Grant Hill, and then get beaten on your own court by a decimated Grizzlies team struggling to score points. Another win puts the Sixers closer to the vaunted 4th spot in the East, a plateau that is very much reachable. Another victory also gives them that much more confidence at the end of a long home stand. After this, the Sixers hit the road for five of the next six, with their only home game against the Denver Nuggets on February 18. End the seven game home stand on a nice note, boys.

How (The Sixers can win): Shutting down O.J. Mayo. Without Gay, they are missing their prized wingman who poses problems both inside and out. However, Mayo is their only viable offensive weapon at this point. The Grizzlies as a whole manage just over 93 points per game, good for 29th in the NBA (30 teams folks). They are also among the worst three-point shooting teams in the league, so forcing outside shots pretty much assures a win against this downtrodden squad.

The key for the Sixers is keeping spirits high by getting Marreese Speights involved often and keeping the intensity level up. This is a proverbial trap game, and a loss to a medicore team can shatter confidence quickly. Run, run, run, and force the ball outside on defense, and a win should be easily attainable.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Speights, Sixers slap Suns silly



Marreese Speights, Marreese Speights, Marreese Speights. It's turning into a man crush, and I don't care. Forget about my waxing poetic, the guy is insanely talented and is beginning to harness it before our very eyes. During an uptempo first half, Speights played for 11 minutes and scored 16 points on an array of alley-oop slams and jumpers. At one point, Speights scored 12 straight points for the Sixers and pushed the team out to a 13 point lead over the winded Phoenix Suns. In the end, Speights and the rest of the crew blew the Suns out of the Wachovia Center by a score of 108-91.

What more can we say about this guy? He runs with purpose, gives the Sixers a spark on the court, and has learned to minimize mistakes. Speights continues to lead all rookies in PER in the NBA, and it's funny to see Robin Lopez on the opposite bench, wasting away. The Suns picked Lopez ahead of Speights, and now have the honor of watching him soar in for dunks and scream the basketball Gods as he runs back down to the defensive end. Elton Who?

It's been a beautiful thing watching Speights flourish before our very eyes, and in this game against the Suns he has outworked everyone put up against him. Amare Stoudemire, the perennial all-star, has been thoroughly outplayed by the youngster.

In the first half, the Sixers did not shoot well, but still put together a great defensive effort. The Suns shot 43 percent and did not make a three pointer in the half, and were forced into 12 turnovers. Andre Miller and company kept the Suns offense off-balance and did not allow Steve Nash to find his mates. The Suns as a whole appeared stagnant and unenthusiastic from the beginning. Perhaps Sunday night's big win over the Detroit Pistons, paired with the fact they are playing back-to-back east coast roadies, the Suns were doomed from the start.

The second half was more of the same ineptitude by the lackadaisical Suns, and more Marreese Speights. The Sixers as a whole exploited the sub par effort of Phoenix at every turn, and ran as much as possible. Here's a noble endeavor: why don't the Sixers go after a shooter at the deadline and run like the Suns used to three or four years ago? They are just as fast, if not faster, than those Suns teams of lore. They pose problems for other teams athletically, but are not a bad rebounding team like the Suns were under Mike D'Antoni. Just a thought.

But back to the game at hand. Thaddeus Young and Andre Iguodala teamed up with Speights and combined for 47 points of their own. 'Reese finished with a career-high 24 points in 24 minutes off the bench, and has quickly allowed for Elton Brand to fade into the background. Brand had surgery on Monday to fix the shoulder that had ailed him since December 19, and Speights made it seem like he was the nine-year veteran. On top of the 24 points, 'Reese grabbed seven boards and blocked two shots, plus hit 11 of his 16 field goal attempts. All in a days work for the rookie.

This wasn't just the Speights show either. Iggy and Thad supplied the offense, Dalembert gave them an interior presence, and Andre Miller quietly ran the show en route to the bitch slapping of PHX.




It's this balanced effort that often escaped the Sixers through the first half of the year. However, since the turn of the calendar to '09, that instability is quickly falling by the wayside, and the Sixers are playing great ball against the best. This Phoenix team was supposed to provide a true test, but it turned into a laugher. The Sixers have won 13 of their last 17 and are now two games over .500.

If the Sixers continue to run and force turnovers, they can be an absolute force. They turned 18 Phoenix turnovers into 20 points and sped out to 19 fast break points against a slow team, which helped put Phoenix to bed early. The Sixers now find themselves just three games out of the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Quite a turnaround from that 9-14 start to the year.

But that's way behind this basketball team. It's all about looking ahead, and forgetting about what could have been. It's all about what CAN BE.

Keep runnin' boys.

Game Time






WHO: Suns (28-21) @ Sixers (25-24)

WHAT: The Suns come in to Philly with a boat load of turmoil, most notably the trade rumors surrounding Amare Stoudemire. In any case, they are still a downright dangerous team led by Steve Nash (21 assists last night) and Shaquille O'Neal. They also have potent wingers in Jason Richardson and Grant Hill. Their starting five is one of the best (on paper) in the NBA. However, its been an inconsistent year in the desert and an overhaul may be in order. For tonight, the Sixers must clamp down on D per usual, or they will be run out of the building by an imposing front-line and one of the best point guards of this generation.

The Sixers are riding high, coming off a 10-point win over the Miami Heat on Saturday. Another win against a Western Conference team in the playoff chase would be huge toward the psyche of this club.

WHERE: Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, PA

WHEN: 7pm, CSN Philly

WHY (The Sixers need this win): Because it will push them even close to Atlanta in the East playoff race. They sit just 3.5 games behind the Hawks for the fourth spot, and the other teams ahead of them (Detroit, Miami) are both beatable right now. However, tonight won't be easy, seeing as though the Suns boast a few sure-fire hall-of-famers and a array of scorers. They have been an enigma this year, but dont let Phoenix fool you. They can beat you in many different ways. A win could go a long way toward April.

HOW (They will win): Stopping the pick and roll and trying their best to shut down Shaq would be ideal. Defense is the Sixers main goal, and they can't lose sight of that and get into a running game, which is what PHX wants. Sam Dalembert needs to come up huge on the defensive end against O'Neal and Reggie Evans will play a vital role in shutting down Amare Stoudemire.

If the Sixers can force some turnovers and limit the Suns possessions on the offensive end, they are a very good shot tonight. But if the Suns come out firing, it may not make a difference.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sixers week in review 2/2 - 2/8


The optimist would look at this past week in a positive light. A last second loss to the best in the East, the Boston Celtics and two wins against Eastern Conference opponents Miami and Indiana gave the Sixers a nice start to the month.

The pessimist would turn it around and say that the Boston game was theirs and they blew it in the end. And don't forget about Elton Brand being lost for the season, which puts another ugly spin on the week that was.

So which was it? Was it a good week or a bad one?

I'll take the former. Anytime you nearly beat the Celtics and enjoy a nice win over Miami, who sits a spot ahead of them in the East, it's looking good.

On Tuesday, the Sixers were crushed by a Ray Allen three-pointer with 0.5 seconds left, and went down 100-99. A valiant comeback was overshadowed by the final play. But looking back, it is a learning experience for a still inexperienced club. There had been much discussion about that final play and who should have been guarding Allen in the corner, Thad Young or Sam Dalembert. No matter the answer, it was a mental mistake a time where they needed to play perfect basketball. Remember though, you have to expect this.

Indiana came to town Thursday and gave the Sixers a run for their money, but eventually went down 99-94. The incredible defense was back on display against the Pacers as they held the team to just 39.4 percent shooting, and shut down all-star forward Danny Granger. And while the Sixers did not shoot well themselves, they put the clamps on down the stretch and held Indiana to 38 points in the second half. The defensive pressure started in the middle, as big man Dalembert snagged a season-high 20 rebounds and gave them the interior presence they need to make a run. It has been up and down with Dalembert, but if he can harness any sort of consistency, he could be a major force. It's that sort of effort that can take this team a long way.

Two night later, Miami came to town and didn't stand a chance. The Heat was burned by seven Sixers in double-figures, led by Marreese Speights and his 15 points off the bench in 22 minutes. Speights immediately makes an impact when he steps on the court, and it will be more evident now that Brand is on the shelf for the year. Coach Tony DiLeo needs to find 18-25 minutes for Speight every night, and in doing that on Saturday, Speights did not let him down.

The biggest factor in the win over Miami was the balanced play of the entire team. Seven guys in double figures, while scoring just 94 points is pretty hard to do. No one shot the ball more than 12 times, and three bench players put up 10-plus points. That's exactly the sort of game the Sixers need to play. Defense first, get out and run on the break, and keep the balance.

The week started off tumultuously, but in retrospect, it ended great. The Sixers are over .500, and this could be the beginning of a special end to the year.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Game Time


Who: Heat (26-22) @ Sixers (24-24)

What: A very evenly matched game with the Heat coming into Philly to take on the now Elton Brand-less Sixers. As everyone now knows, Brand will have season-ending surgery to fix the shoulder that has given him problems for six weeks. The Sixers need to overcome the loss by playing sound basketball and keeping the team atmosphere that has helped them get back to the .500 point after an ugly start to the season.

Miami comes in playing up and down basketball, pretty much in the same fashion as the Sixers. One night they can look insanely good, the next can be a pain to watch. Dwyane Wade will pose problems on the Sixers unless they use their wingmen to counteract him. Look for Iguodala to be matchup with Wade all night. Though, it may not mean much, the guy is so good.

Where: Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, PA

When: 7pm, CSN Philly

Why (The Sixers need this win): Basically to show everyone they can keep winning without Brand and that the Sixers can hang with anyone in the East. This would be a nice statement win for Iggy and the Stooges, and would push them closer to both Detroit and Miami for the five and six seeds, respectively.

How (The Sixers will win): By containing Wade to the best of their abilities, most likely by keeping a long arm in front of him. While its impossible to stop him completely, keeping him from going off will help. I know im not saying things that aren't already known, but Wade is one of the best scorers in the game, and the rest of the Heat team is struggling in that department.

Also, keep running! Try and speed past the Heat and finally, the team will be over .500.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Brand may need to shut it down




It pains me to say this, and I'm sure it pains Elton Brand, figuratively and literally, but he might have to stay away from the team for a while and let the bum shoulder heal.

Brand has been back since January 24, six games during that span. And it has not been pretty.

In those six games, his production has been hindered by the inability to shoot the ball. That statement is reflected in his two games of zero points and one double-digit showing. His defense has been the only facet of his game keeping him on the floor. Well, that and the $80 million contract.

But beyond the big-money deal, Brand has been trying, this much we know. He has 13 blocks over the last six and is rebounding well. The fact of the matter is, if he is less than 100 percent healthy, which it appears he is, then he should not play. With Brand on the court, rookie Marreese Speights is missing out on important minutes that can only help him grow. Wasting 15 to 20 minutes right now shouldn't be an option while every game is gaining more and more importance.

His comeback is admirable and it should be noted that most players would hang it up after a dislocation that severe. But Brand obviously wants to make good on his giant contract, and by coming back he is showing he at least cares about his new team. But for the good of everyone involved, it may be best to sit back, let the wound heal, and let the team move on for the rest of this season.

Brand is an exceptional talent, one of the few guys who have average 20 points and 10 rebounds this decade. On the flip side, if you cant shoot, and if normal basketball activities become a chore, it might be time to rethink the course of action.

Right now, Brand is day-to-day, but then again aren't we all. It would be silly to have this situation hang over the heads of an already fragile team. A definitive decision needs to made soon, or else guys like Speights will not be able to find that necessary rhythm while his minutes fluctuate wildly.

Basically, I think the choice has been made for them. The numbers speak for themselves.

"I've got big balls. They're such big balls"



Did anyone else catch this? After dropping what appeared to be the game winner, Andre Iguodala used the old Sam Cassell "Big Balls" celebration following the 18-footer that somehow dropped.

Ray Allen then showed the crowd of 17,000-plus that his balls are just a wee bit bigger than most. Enjoy. And then not.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I just threw up in my mouth, thanks Ray Allen


Jesus kills. And I mean that in the most figurative sense.

Jesus Shuttlesworth, aka Ray Allen, hit two threes in the final 31 seconds, including the shank in the side with .5 seconds remaining to give the Celtics their 12th straight win. It was like popping a balloon and watching the air quickly leave it. But that's what happens when you leave one of the greatest three-point shooters open for a split second.

A triumphant comeback by the Sixers after a brutal opening quarter turned this into an amazing game from the second quarter on. In the end though, it was a breakdown on defense that led to the loss.

The defense had been stellar all night, pestering the Kevin Garnett-less Celtics into 21 turnovers and turning those into 30 points.

Here are some negative notes:
-The Sixers somehow left Ray Allen wide open. Whatever the case may be, under no circumstance is this allowed. He has hit the most three's per game in NBA history. That's a nice lesson.

-Three-point shooting continues to be an ongoing process. The Sixers shot just 1-of-8 from downtown on the night. The three-ball has been more prevalent lately under DiLeo, but that doesn't mean its been all good. Sixers need a shooter to step up.

-Elton Brand needs to shut it down. He is hurting this team when he is on the floor and he is hurting himself, literally, by playing on a bum shoulder. He should shut it down, learn from the team during his time off, and start afresh next season. It's really the only option left in the bag.

-I continue to harass Sam Dalembert, even though he had a decent game. He just doesn't look like the same player to me that averaged a double-double last season. He should play no part on offense unless that entails grabbing an offensive rebound or two and the occasional dunk.

-Letting the opponent shoot 54 percent = not so good. Lucky they were even in this game.

A few positives:
-What a comeback! After the first quarter I was ready to write some downright mean things about how ugly it is watching this team, and how they can't hand with the C's. Boy was I wrong. They made a valiant comeback in the second quarter after being completely blown away in the first. It's games like this that build character, and even though they lost, they should be proud of the job they did in even being in this game.

-Andre Iguodala hit a huge shot down the stretch, and played pretty well overall. He continues to flourish without Elton Brand, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing, or a bad thing. His 22 points, six rebounds, and six assists show he is involved in every facet of the game. But the question begs asking: can they win with him being "the man"?

-Reggie Evans is a monster. He came off the bench for 24 energetic, pulse-pumping minutes, giving the crowd something to cheer for all night. They even chanted his name a time or two. He finished with eight points, 10 boards, two steals and was a +14 on the night, meaning they played their best ball with him on the court. Every game needs to be like this when Evans is on the court. It shows you how some people can just turn a game around on their own, even if they are not a special talent.

-Mo Speights continues to play decent basketball, when he is in the lineup of course. He played just six minutes, but had a couple of dunks, played some spirited ball, and was quickly taken out. Not sure what his role is, and I'm not sure Tony DiLeo knows either.

Next: vs. Indiana, Thursday 7pm.

HORSE!!! And my dreams have come true


Nearly every day last summer, my buddy Jeff and I would go to the park and play HORSE. That's how you know I'm friggin' stoked to see this as an actual event (finally) during NBA All-Star Weekend.

There has been a lot of talk as to who will be in it, and it seems unlikely any of the big guns will want in. Here are my lists:

Legends: Jordan, Bird, Wilkins, Stockton

Lesser Legends (and I say that with great admiration for all involved): Dan Majerle, Glen Rice, Joe Dumars, Mark Price.

Today: Steve Nash, Gilbert Arenas (he can shoot!), Kevin Love, Jason Terry

I think the latter actually has a decent chance of happening. Two stars, two pretty good players. Nash is an obvious because the game is in PHX. Love was snubbed in the rookie game, Gilbert is a star and hasn't played but could shoot from anywhere. A guy from a lesser known, West Coast team like Stephen Jackson, Jason Terry, or Kevin Martin would work too. Terry can hit it from anywhere on the floor and might work the best in this type of game.

Did I mention I'm excited.

Game Time


The Man, The Myth, The most likely replacement for Garnett tonight in the starting lineup who has red hair and is flabby.



WHO: Celtics (40-9) @ Sixers (23-23)

WHAT: The Sixers face off against the 'Beast of the East" in the Celtics, who are red-white-smoking-hot. It's been an up and down season for the C's and by up and down I mean they wont 27 of 29, lost 7 of 9, then followed that up with an 11-game winning streak. I will take that up-and-down any day.

As for Philly, they could use a win after dropping the ball to New Jersey on Saturday night. The 85-83 loss was difficult for many reasons. One that sticks out is, Jersey isn't very good, and if the Sixers want to be known as a top-notch team, what better way than to take down Goliath. The Celtics will likely be without Kevin Garnett, who is fighting an illness that kept him out of Sunday's win against Minnesota.

WHERE: Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, PA (TV: CSN-Philly)

WHEN: 7pm EST

WHY (The Sixers need this win): Because it's the Celtics, plain and simple. They are the best in the Eastern Conference, playing at an extraordinarily high level, and need to be taken down a notch. The Sixers already have high-profile wins against Houston, San Antonio, Detroit, Atlanta, Portland, and three against Washington (just jokes!!!). A win for the Sixers will make them 11-5 in 2009 and will start off their five-game home stand on the right foot. Or the left foot, whichever works for them.

HOW (The Sixers will win): I'm not really sure about this. I would preach defense, but they are already playing at a high level. I would preach getting the ball inside without Garnett there, which is easier said than done against the team that is first in defensive efficiency.

Basically, they have to exploit the loss of KG inside, and not force up a bunch of contested three's. No bad shots tonight. Other than that, pray a lot. God works in mysterious ways.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sixers end the month still riding the coaster



"I believe diversity is an old, old wooden ship"


The ride continues. I'm getting nauseous. January went pretty well for the Sixers, ending it 10-5 with blowout victories over playoff teams in Portland, San Antonio and Atlanta and a nice road win over Houston.

They made those statement wins because they smelled what Tony DiLeo was stepping in. The Sixers are shooting the three better now and are running the break. However, the end of the month was not as forgiving.

How can you end the month by losing to New Jersey? After racking up some very big victories and looking as though you're ready to hang with the big boys, you crap all over the place, to be honest. The Nets are a borderline playoff squad, boasting an incredible back court tandem of Devin Harris and Vince Carter. Forget about them; it was rookie Brook Lopez who laid them out.

Lopez, the 10th pick in the 2008 draft, lit them up to the tune of 24 points and 17 rebounds. Calling Sam Dalembert! Sammy D, who D'ed up Yao Ming a few nights earlier, played just 15 minutes and was hobbled by a sprained ankle. Whoever was on Lopez couldn't stop him.

A positive on the night was the shutdown of Harris and Carter, who combined for just 24 points on Saturday night. So the defense was sturdy. The offense, though, was anything but.

Shooting under 35 percent will get you nowhere, and that's exactly what the Sixers output was. Elton Brand was the main culprit, coming off the bench to shoot 2-for-10 and finish with five points in just 18 minutes. Ugly.

One offensive positive was...

Scratch that. The Sixers went 5-of-17 from three point territory, which is a bit much for a suspect shooting team. Keep that number to around 12-15, and your good to go. That means you're getting to the hoop and not settling, which is what the Sixers enjoy doing. I'm going to start calling them the Mayflowers instead of the 76ers, because they keep bringing settlers every night. Ok, that was bad. But you catch my drift, so to speak. Don't settle for outside shots you cant make. The Sixers don't have a three-point shooter, which means getting to the basket should be their main objective. Diversify! Use all weapons.

Now, their objective must be staying in the game with the Celtics on Tuesday night. Easier said my friends. Easier said.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Not getting Iggy with it in PHX


Andre Iguodala did not make the all-star tea, as a reserve, and you should not be surprised. He, 100 percent, did not deserve to be there. Plain and simple. There had been questions abound whether or not he should go because of the resurgence of the Sixers, but come on. Iggy can't go over any of those guys, or those snubs. Here are the reserves for each conference.

EAST:
G Jameer Nelson (Magic)
G Joe Johnson (Hawks)
G Devin Harris (Nets)
F Danny Granger (Pacers)
F Paul Pierce (Celtics)
C Chris Bosh (Raptors)

WEST:
G Chauncey Billups (Nuggets)
G Brandon Roy (Blazers)
G Tony Parker (Spurs)
F David West (Hornets)
F Pau Gasol (Lakers)
F Dirk Nowitzki (Mavericks)
C Shaquille O'Neal

East Snubs: Rajon Rondo, Vince Carter, David Lee, Hedo Turkoglu
West Snubs: Al Jefferson (How the hell is he not there?), Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams

My interview with Kate Fagan



I haven't yet mentioned that I lead two different lives. I double as both a radio host and a blogger/writer. On Monday's, Wednesday's, and Friday's I host a show called "Basketball Roundup" on the Sports Journey Broadcast Network (Sportsjourney.com). Check out my interview with Kate Fagan from the Philadelphia Inquirer talking about the state of the 76ers as well as a preview to the already-won Houston game.

In addition to my work on the broadcast network, I am the Philadelphia Phillies Examiner at Examiner.com. Also, for great content for the city of Philadelphia sports, visit Thinkphillysports.com.

Click here to listen to the show
. Kate comes on in the second hour.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Don’t call it a comeback



Because the Sixers keep playing sloppy basketball. Eighteen turnovers is not what I call smart play. They get a bit of a mulligan by bringing it all the way back from a 14-point deficit in Houston where it is tough to win. The Sixers did just that, splitting the quick excursion to the Gulf Coast Region after a 95-93 win over the Rockets.

If you feel like this is a roller-coaster ride - watching the Sixers play for 48 minutes, raise your hand. Throughout a game, at several points I want to do a number of things, including: throw the remote, watch another game, watch the oxygen channel, flip back, hold my breath, scream obscenities. It’s like menopause for NBA fans. My chest feels heavy and it makes me want to lay down. It’s heart attack-worthy.

It’s so frustrating to watch leads slip away, yet incredibly rewarding when they provide an awesome turnaround like they did tonight.

The Negatives:

Sam Dalembert played incredible defense on Yao Ming. That might even be a bit of an understatement. He battled hard in the low block trying to keep the 7’6 Yao away from the hoop. Dalembert would seem over matched but really held his own.

So why is he on the negative list? Bonehead plays. I will call him “Brain Fart”. At times it looks like he has no idea why he’s in the arena. At one point he grabbed a rebound and tried to throw a fade route to Lou Williams streaking down the sidelines, only to have it go over his head and bounce out of bounds. Another sequence had him grab a great offensive rebound along the baseline, only to jack up an ill-advised shot over the long arms of Yao after getting the fresh shot clock. Although he dominated at times on defense, he ended up with a team-worst -11. Roller-coaster.

The turnovers are a real problem. The total stands at 39 over the last two games, an exorbitant figure. Their 15.5 per game is 25th in the league, so it’s amazing that they are even in some of these games. You have to take care of the ball, and right now it isn’t happening. If they could bring that number down a tick, there could be another win or two on the board.

Lou Williams also made some bonehead mistakes and did not shoot well. On a fast break during the second quarter, he tried to make a fancy pass to Marreese Speights on the right wing and threw it two feet in front of him, into the front row. His 17 points were deceiving because he took more bad shots than good in my opinion.

The Positives:

Sam Dalembert! Great defense, son! His four blocks, including the game-sealer out on the arc guarding Tracy McGrady, were huge. Sammy D, you must be this tall to ride the coaster.

Elton Brand made a statement as well, both offensively and defensively. In 26 minutes he put together a healthy stat line: 14pts, 7reb, 6-10FG, 6 blocks. Six blocks is the telling stat here. The Sixers had 14 altogether, exerting themselves defensively and taking no prisoners in the paint. Brand, teamed with Dalembert, shut down Yao, holding him to 13 points in 34 minutes.

Teamwork was also on display, and within that, they didn’t seem to miss a beat with Brand on the court. There had been so much talk about how the team would respond with Brand back and they showed tonight it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Marreese Speights lack of playing time had also been an issue, as he tallied just 15 minutes in the past two games; tonight, 21. Tony DiLeo listened to my constant bickering and kept him in the game long enough for him to be a +12 and score six points to go with six boards.

Andre Iguodala nailed a beautiful high arcing jump shot with 37 seconds left in the 4th quarter that put the Sixers in control down the stretch. In the first quarter, he also threw down a silly alley-oop dunk over Yao that should be on Sportscenter tonight. He took three 3-pointers tonight and did not make any, which is his Achilles heel. He did have 20 points however, including those big two late in the game.

An impressive stat came from the free throw line, another sickly part of the team. They usually shoot 74 percent, which is 29th in the NBA. Tonight, 20-for 21, a complete turnaround, and the Sixers needed every single one of them.

This is the kind of performance that leads to a nice winning streak. Beating a member of the elite club makes you feel all warm inside, doesn’t it?

Next up: Washington – Friday, January 30, 7pm



Game Time





WHO: Sixers (21-22) @ Rockets (28-18)

WHAT: The Sixers face off against the Rockets having won 8 of 10. However, two nights ago in New Orleans was a game to forget, as they allowed Chris Paul to walk all over them and Peja Stojakovic to rain three's like it was a strip joint. A 101-86 loss ensued.

Tonight is yet another tough battle as the Sixers take on the Yao-less Rockets as part of their quick two-game jaunt to the Gulf Coast. Houston poses different problems for the Sixers, providing two superstars (Artest/McGrady) and a large group of role players. They will not kill you with outside shooting or a point guard who wont stop. The Rockets will deftly maneuver and kill you softly in a myriad of different ways. Houston is also a saucy 15-5 at home, so a win won't come easy.

WHERE: Toyota Center; Houston, Texas - Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia

WHEN: 8:30 EST

WHY (The Sixers need this win): To prove that their debacle in NOLA was not a precursor of things to come. A win in Texas would be a statement for this Sixers club that has been rolling along as of late. Elton Brand will play a few more minutes, and it's imperative he bring his A-game against a hard working front line.

HOW (The Sixers will win): Brand also needs to show that his 18-minute, zero-point performance on Monday was just him swatting the cobwebs. He also has to put behind him the trade rumors that have suddenly surrounded him. They must run and run in this game and try to keep the Rockets off-balance. If they fall into the half-court trap, Houston will suffocate them and the Sixers will die. Figuratively speaking. Getting to the rim is also a must. If the Sixers can get the ball in deep, they can overpower the undermanned front court of the Rockets. They must also frustrate McGrady and Artest by keeping them on the perimeter and force them to take bad shots. Andre Iguodala has to come up large defensively against two premier offensive performers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sixers need to Speightialize


Where the hell was Marreese Speights last night? Actually I can answer that; glued to the bench. He spent 3:02 on the court, which is well below his season average of 15.5. While his playing time has been sparse overall this season, lately the minutes have grown to where he is a real part of the rotation. But his absence last night was a headscratcher.

Speights is averaging a steady eight points per game so far and over the 10 games prior to the Hornets match up, his minutes had been up a bit. Basically, he does his damage in short spurts. And it isn't a science really; its quite tough to trust a rookie power forward to play a ton of minutes while still learning on the run.

What I do not get though is why he was relegated to on-looker while the Sixers needed a spark during Peja Stojakovic's Better Basketball shooting clinic on the right arc. Tony DiLeo did not look his way during an important time, a weird move considering the lack of passion exuded on the court by the Sixers during that wicked stretch.

The numbers never lie and currently they show a very consistent rookie being wasted. In the usual nine man rotation employed by DiLeo, Speights leads the Sixers in PER at 20.47. PER is the Player Efficiency Rating concocted by John Hollinger of ESPN.com as a way to show a player's per-minute productivity. And not only is he the leader in PER for the Sixers, but also for all rookies in the entire NBA by a fair margin.

Speights is simply giving the Sixers decent minutes right now. The return of Elton Brand undoubtedly has something to do with Speights and his 15 total minutes in the last two games. However, his maturation should not be stunted because Brand is back in the fold. If anything, Sam Dalembert should lose a few minutes to ensure the rookie gets some well needed, and earned, playing time.

While Speights does have some tendinitis in his knee, my knees creak too. Get the kid on the court, allow him to flourish, but also to make the occasional mistake, and play him with Brand.