Back to Reality for the Sixers in Road Defeat

The Sixers did a poor job sharing the ball Monday night.

The Sixers did a poor job sharing the ball Monday night.

Maybe it was due to it being the second night of a back-to-back, or the last game of a four-game West coast trip, but Philadelphia was back looking like the sloppy team fans have been forced to endure for much of the season.  The Sixers were soundly defeated, 107-91, as the Jazz used a big second quarter and 13-0 run to end the half and cruise the rest of the way.  The starting line-up, in particular, was off its game tonight, with each starter having a double-digit plus-minus rating on the night, led by a remarkably bad outing by Jrue Holiday at -38.

The Sixers displayed little ball movement on the offensive end, finishing the game with just 9 assists as a team, including an astonishingly-low 3 assists in the first half.  This total was partly due to the fact that the team actually did a nice job getting to the foul line, shooting 23-28 from the charity stripe on the evening, but there were also plenty of instances of ‘clogged toilet bowl’ offense where guys tried to do too much themselves.

Defensively, Philadelphia was not sharp in their defensive rotations, as the Jazz finished 7-14 from behind the arc, including hitting 6 of 10 threes in the pivotal first half.  No one player dominated the action for the Jazz, as the opposition continued to work the ball around and find the open man, which could be found easily more often than not against an undisciplined Sixers unit.  7 different Jazz players would go on to record double-digit scoring efforts.

Dorell Wright led the team with 19 points, continuing his case to become a coveted free agent for a contender in the offseason.  Wright would make a great three-point specialist, hybrid stretch-four for a lot of teams and I’m sure he’ll have his share of suitors following his time with the Sixers.  Also, Moultrie had a career-high 14 points and 8 rebounds. Regarding Moultrie, there is no reason he shouldn’t be receiving over 20 minutes each night during this final portion of the season.  As much as I enjoy watching Thad Young play, and despite Spencer Hawes’ improved performance over the past couple weeks, the Sixers are in a position where they can afford to shave off some of their minutes and give them to the young guy.  The rest of the season should primarily be about player evaluation and increased game experience for the team’s youth for next year and beyond.  Unfortunately, with Doug Collins’ future with the team being called into question by the media, you know he will do everything to maximize every chance to pick up a meaningless win.

Sixers @ Jazz Game Preview (3/25/13)

The Jazz have not hit all the right notes this season.

The Sixers and Jazz meet Monday night with both teams sitting in 9th place in their respective conferences.  Showing the disparity between the East and West though, the Jazz are still fighting for their playoff lives, whereas the Sixers knew weeks ago they would be golfing (or bowling) come springtime.  Utah is in a freefall of late, having lost 4 straight and 8 of their last 10 to drop 2 games behind the Lakers for the 8th and final playoff spot.  The Jazz lost a huge game yesterday on the road to the Mavericks, allowing Dallas to pull even with them for 9th place.  Utah has to view this game as a must-win against a Sixers team playing out the string.

The Sixers defeated the Jazz at home, 99-93, way back in November.  Jrue Holiday had a big performance in that contest with a game-high 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists.  Poor guard play has long been the weakness for the Jazz as they feature one of the deepest front line rotations in the league with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap starting, with youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter coming off the bench.  The Jazz opted not to trade one of their veteran big men for a young piece or two at the trade deadline, deciding to keep this group together for a run at an early-round playoff exit.  It seemed like the team would have been well-served acquiring a back court prospect or an additional draft pick, while giving more playing time to Favors and Kanter, who have played well with the minutes they’ve been given. 

On the court, the Jazz are 6th best in the NBA on the offensive glass, grabbing 29.4 of available offensive rebounds.  Each of their four big men average at least 2.0 offensive boards per game; the Sixers will have to make a concerted effort in that area with Thad Young being undersized against all but Millsap, or if they opt to go small with Dorell Wright at the four.  Among the perimeter players, Gordon Hayward, Mo Williams, and Randy Foye are all slightly above-average from behind the arc.  However, none of them are shot creators as the Jazz run their offense through the post.  The Sixers just need not avoid straying too far from those guys in their defensive rotations.  Finally, when the Sixers are on offense, they need to go at Utah, as the Jazz have the 5th-highest foul rate in the league, with Favors being the biggest culprit.  The Jazz perimeter players are not defensive stoppers and other than Favors, there’s not a big shot-blocking presence on the interior.

Keys to the Game:

  • Jrue Holiday needs to have another big game for the Sixers to complete the season sweep against the Jazz.  Mo Williams is undersized and an undiscipled defender who Holiday should tear apart on the offensive end.  He should be able to get into the lane at will and score efficiently to carry the Sixers’ attack.
  • Someone needs to step up off the bench in the second game of a back-to-back.  All of the starters played 30+ minutes last night against Sacramento and Doug Collins will likely stretch his rotation out tonight.  If Dorell Wright or Lavoy Allen could score over 20 points two games in a row, the Sixers should remain within striking distance.

Prediction:

Despite the win last night against the lowly Kings, the Sixers’ road woes are no secret by now, and Utah plays much better at home, where they have a 24-9 record.  Teams with dominant size often give Philadelphia fits on the interior and I expect tonight to be no different.  Given the poor form of late from the Jazz and the slight turnaround from the Sixers the last couple weeks, the game should be a close one.  However, Utah should prevail in the end.

Sixers Dispatch of Kings for First Road Win in Months

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The grass isn’t always greener, Sixers fans.

Sixers fans wanting to keep things in perspective should remember things can always get worse.  The team could be facing relocation rumors, with cash-strapped owners selling off lottery picks for spare parts and pocket money, and a temperamental star constantly clashing with the coaching staff and among the league leaders in technical fouls.  Enter the Sacramento Kings, who make Philadelphia look like the benchmark for organizational stability and harmony.  The Sixers went into Sacramento and earned their first road victory since January 1st against the Lakers, in a 117-103 win.

Sacramento entered the game with the second-worst defense in the league and the Kings did not disappoint.  The Sixers put up their highest-scoring total of the season, as six players reached double figures with the team shooting 49.0% throughout the game.  Sacramento rotated poorly on defense, allowing Philadelphia to swing the ball around at ease to open shooters.  On the rare occasions a shot was missed, the Sixers found little resistance in collecting 17 offensive rebounds.

Jrue Holiday had a fantasy owner’s dream stat line with 21 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 steals.  Dorell Wright came off the bench to score a team-high 22 points, making 6 of 10 shots from behind the arc.  Even Lavoy Allen put thoughts of Temple’s loss earlier in the day out of his mind to score a career-high 20 points.

The Sixers limited Kings’ big man DeMarcus Cousins to just 8 points and 9 rebounds by keeping him in foul trouble throughout the game, as he also collected a double technical with Thad Young midway through the second quarter.  Guards Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton each dropped over 20 points, but unable to get any stops defensively, the Kings never mounted a serious threat in the second half.

Garland’s Floater Lifts La Salle to Victory

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La Salle becomes the last Philly team standing in reaching the Sweet 16.

La Salle came into their tournament game against Ole Miss with a 6-1 record in games decided by 3 games or less.  There is no telling whether teams can actually have the ‘clutch’ gene but Explorers fans are starting to believe.  With the game tied at 74 in the closing seconds, Tyrone Garland banked home a lay-up to seal the Explorers’ trip to the Sweet 16 in a 76-74 La Salle victory.  Courtesy of ESPN’s Ryan Feldman, not only are the Explorers on a tremendous run at present, but history is on their side as well.

Ramon Galloway became the second City 6 guard to catch fire in the first half today, as he shot 6-10 from the field, including 5-8 from three, for 19 points before halftime.  Galloway’s efforts kept La Salle in the contest, as his teammates combined to shoot 0-6 from behind the arc in the first half.  Galloway cooled off a bit in the second half, finishing with 24 points.  Luckily for the Explorers, a couple of his teammates picked things up after halftime.  Tyreek Duren ended the contest with 19 points on 6 for 11 shooting, while Tyrone Garland finished with 17 including the biggest 2 points of the game.

For Ole Miss, Marshall Henderson was his usual inefficient self, ending the game with 21 points on 8-21 shooting and 4-15 from three.  He came into the game leading the NCAA in three-point attempts and it was easy to see why, as he jacked up shots given even a glimmer of daylight.  Murphy was a force on the inside in his last collegiate game, scoring 14 points and collecting 12 rebounds, including 5 offensive boards.  You have to wonder whether Ole Miss would have been better off as a team not relying so heavily on Henderson from the outside.

La Salle’s cinderella run continues against Wichita State in four days, who is coming off a big upset of their own over Gonzaga.  Can La Salle be the next VCU to go from play-in game to Final Four?  We’ll examine later in the week.

 

Clock Strikes Midnight on the Owls

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Time has run out on Temple’s season and the careers of five seniors.

On an afternoon where Temple faced an Indiana team with two All-Americans, Khalif Wyatt played like one himself, finishing with 31 points for the second straight tournament game.  Unfortunately, two is still better than one, and with the Hoosiers up one with 15 seconds left, Victor Oladipo hit a dagger three from the top of the key to put the game away.  Temple fell by a final score of 58-52, putting an end to the Temple career for five seniors, including A-10 conference player of the year, Khalif Wyatt.

The 6’4″ guard from Norristown was unstoppable in the first half, shooting 8-14 from the field for 20 points as the Owls jumped out to a 29-26 halftime lead.  Temple played some of its best defense of the season, hounding Cody Zeller on the inside and forcing the Hoosiers into an uncharacteristic 1-7 performance from behind the arc.  When Cody Zeller collected his second foul and hit the bench with seven minutes left from the first half, the Hoosiers’ offense stalled allowed Temple to take the lead.  Unfortunately for Temple, Wyatt was the only Owl who brought his ‘A’ game on the offensive end, as his teammates combined to shoot just 4-20 in the first half.  Whereas the Owls should have built a huge lead given Wyatt’s stellar performance and Indiana’s struggles, the rest of the Owls’ shooting woes led the Hoosiers hang around.

In the end, Wyatt cooled off a bit and his teammates never picked him up.  Temple’s second leading scorer, Scootie Randall, finished the game an abysmal 0-12, the other star of the NC State game, Jake O’Brien, was 0-4, and Will Cummings missed all five his shot attempts.  Other than Wyatt, the rest of the Owls shot 0-12 from behind the arc, negating the biggest portion of the Temple attack.

The two All-Americans carried the day for the Hoosiers as Oladipo finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds.  Cody Zeller had 15 points and drew a number of fouls on Temple big men Jake O’Brien and Anthony Lee.  However, the Owls actually defended Zeller well, forcing him into 6 turnovers.  The Hoosiers got just enough down the stretch from their supporting parts, including some big shots from Will Sheehey and a game-changing Christian Watford block of Anthony Lee with two minutes left.

So ends an excellent, final season for the core of the Temple Owls roster.  Temple nearly took down one of the best teams in the country, and likely would have if not for some uncharacteristically terrible shooting from Wyatt’s teammates.  Wyatt, Randall, Hollis-Jefferson, O’Brien, and DiLeo will not be returning in the fall, but they have certainly left their mark on the Temple program.

Sixers @ Kings Game Preview (3/24/13)

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The Sixers continue their road trip against the Kings, whose defense has left a lot to be desired this season.

After collapsing in the closing minutes against Denver Thursday night, the Sixers look to bounce back from that heart-breaking defeat in Sacramento.  Philadelphia will not be expected to win many of the games down this final stretch of the season that sees them play 12 of 16 games on the road.  However, with the Sixers on two days rest, a game against a Kings team which played in Denver the night before might be the rare exception.

The Sixers won the teams’ first match-up at the Wells Fargo Center in February, 89-80.  Thad Young had a big game for Philadelphia with a team-high 23 points and 15 rebounds (including 5 offensive boards).  That low-scoring contest was uncharacteristic of a standard Kings game as Sacramento is the second-worst defensive team in the league this season.  Consistent effort on that end has been a huge problem for a young Kings team; opponents have the third-best effective field goal percentage against them, in addition to securing the second-highest percentage of available offensive rebounds.  Allowing your opponent makeable shots and giving them second chances when they do happen to miss is a sure-fire way to a 25-44 record, even if you have some intriguing offensive talent.

However, the Kings have played much better since losing to Miami in double overtime a few weeks back, going 6-6 since then (with tonight’s Denver result still pending).  The Kings have gone from horrific to merely bad on the defensive end during that stretch (approximately 105.7 points allowed per 100 possessions as opposed to 108.4) so maybe Coach Keith Smart’s message is starting to get through.  The Kings also pulled off a trade deadline deal that was widely derided in the analyst community, trading Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia, and Tyler Honeycutt away for Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas, and Cole Aldrich.  Although it still seems awful to give up on the 5th overall pick after only half a season in the short term, Patterson has given them a boost, averaging 15.0 points and 5.8 rebounds over the last four games since earning extending minutes.

When he’s not being suspended by the league for flagrant fouls or by his own organization for conduct detrimental to the team, DeMarcus Cousins leads the team in scoring (17.0 ppg) and rebounding (10.0 rpg).  Cousins has a nice mid-range jump shot, although his back-to the-basket game could still use some work, and has progressed as a passer from the high post.  He also is turnover-prone though, averaging 3.0 turnovers per game, so the Sixers need to crowd him when he receives the ball and force him to put the ball on the floor.  Besides Cousins, the Kings feature Tyreke Evans and a bevy of undersized guards in Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, and Jimmer Fredette.  Although Evans has improved his three-point shooting to a career-high 35.0%, he is still at his best going to the rim and should be forced into settling for jump shots.  A lot of their perimeter players can hit threes if left alone so Philadelphia defenders can’t help too far off them hen doubling down on Cousins or fellow big man Jason Thompson.

Keys to the Game:

  • Take the ball to the hoop.  In addition to having no shot-blocking presence, Sacramento displays limited effort in staying in front of their men on the defensive end.  Holiday and Turner need to get to the rim for easy buckets instead of settling for easy buckets.
  • Crash the offensive glass.  Thad Young should have another field day against the Kings as his relentless energy and tenacity on the boards are the antithesis of what this Sacramento team brings to the table.  He and the rest of the Sixers frontline should grab a handful of offensive boards to help buoy the Philadelphia attack.

Prediction:

The Clippers game and final couple minutes of the Nuggets game aside, Philadelphia has played well against much better competition than Sacramento.  With the Kings playing on the tail end of a back-to-back and the Sixers rested, Philadelphia wins fairly easily.

#13 La Salle vs. #12 Ole Miss NCAA 3rd Round Game Preview

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La Salle’s success this week has fans dreaming of championship glory.

After reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1992, La Salle has gone on to win two tournament games for the first time since 1955.  The entire alumni base is on cloud nine about the team’s success this week and with good reason.  One more win will earn the Explorers a bid to the Sweet 16; standing in their win is the Old Miss Rebels.

Junior Marshall Henderson is the man to stop for the Rebels.  Henderson is the 17th-leading scorer in the country at 20.0 points per game, accounting for 25.8% of the team’s points on the season.  He is basically the sole threat from behind the arc for Ole Miss, attempting over half of the team’s three-point attempts.  The gunner has the green light to shoot from anywhere on the court at any time, as LeBron James mentioned in a tweet that garnered some media attention.  Aside from his statistics, Henderson is the madman known as much for his clutch shots as his outrageous behavior on the court, such as doing the Gator Chomp to mock the Florida crowd during the SEC Championship game.  Henderson polarizes the general public, with people either finding his antics funny or feeling like they want to punch him in the face.

Besides Henderson, 6’7″ senior Murphy Holloway is the main interior force for Ole Miss, averaging 14.5 ppg on 55.7% shooting and 9.6 rebounds.  As a team, Mississippi speeds up the game, leading to some high-scoring totals.  However, they are not an especially efficient shooting squad, shooting only 43.6% from the field and 32.9% from three.  The Rebels maintain a good offensive rating thanks to their 11.1 offensive rebounds per game, which ranks 24th in the country.  Fortunately for La Salle fans, this is an area where the Explorers have done a decent job this season.  Defensively for the Rebels, their strategy appears to center around protecting the paint and making opponents beat them from the outside.  Opposition’s 6.6 made threes and 21.4 attempted threes per game are among the highest totals allowed of any team in the country.  This defensive philosophy plays right into La Salle’s hands as they look to shoot from behind the arc at all times.

In their third tournament contest, La Salle looks to have drawn a favorable match-up in the Rebels. La Salle has a number of quick guards to throw at Henderson defensively.  He’s going to take a large number of shots; the key will be to make sure they’re from bad spots on the court.  Ole Miss is an inefficient offensive team that relies on earning extra opportunities on the offensive glass, while the Explorers have done well to limit teams to just one possession.  Finally, La Salle has relied on beating teams from behind the arc, which is an area Ole Miss concedes on the defensive end.  I would look for the dream to stay alive and La Salle to reach the Sweet 16.

#9 Temple vs. #1 Indiana NCAA 3rd Round Game Preview

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Temple will do battle with one of college basketball’s heavyweights in Indiana.

Following a poor performance against Massachusetts in the A-10 tournament,  Temple fans were a bit concerned how the Owls would come out against a talented NC State in their opening NCAA tournament game.  Temple answered the bell in a big way with a dominant first half on their way to a 4-point victory over the Wolfpack.  Now, the Owls will have to repeat that effort against a much better opponent in #1 seed, Indiana.

Temple has experienced mixed results against top tier teams this season, beating Syracuse, Saint Louis, and VCU, losing close games to Kansas and Butler, and getting blown out by Duke.  The Hoosiers feature elite talent with two players projected to go in the top 10 of the NBA draft, in Cody Zeller (averaging 16.7 points and 8.1 rebounds) and Victor Oladipo (13.5 points and 6.4 rebounds).  On top of their lottery prospects, the Hoosiers have a deep roster with seniors Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls bringing added scoring and leadership.  The pair represent the biggest threats from behind the arc for Indiana (49.2% and 46.2%, respectively).

Like the Owls’ opponent on Friday, Indiana has a great offense with a strong interior presence in Zeller.  Temple struggled against C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell down low against the Wolfpack and will have to do a better job against a superior scorer like Zeller.  The Hoosiers sport the number one most efficient offense in the country with the 7th best field goal percentage nationally at 48.6%, including the second best shooting percentage from three at 41.1%.  Indiana is also third best in the country at getting to the foul line with 25.3 free throws attempted per game, led by Cody Zeller who ranks 19th nationally in made free throws per game.  The Hoosiers can score from inside and out, hitting threes at an elite rate and aggressively getting to the basket to earn trips to the foul line.  This game will be the toughest defensive task for the Owls all season.

Unlike NC State though, Indiana actually plays defense and does so at a high level.  Oladipo is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, averaging 2.2 steals per game, but also providing the type of lock-down defense you can not account for with stats.  The battle between Oladipo and Khalif Wyatt when the Owls have the ball will be the premier match-up to watch during the game.  The Hoosiers also have the 44th best three point shooting defense at 30.9%, which will be key against the effective three-point attack of the Owls.

Temple will certainly have their hands full with the Hoosiers.  Oladipo is one of the few players in the country who has both the strength and quickness to deal with Wyatt on the perimeter.  The Owls have not performed exceptionally well on the defensive end and Indiana has an effective, balanced attack that should be able to score at will.  As well as the Owls have played over the last few weeks, I believe their season ends Sunday in Dayton.

Wildcats Fall Short in Comeback Attempt

The Tar Heels’ prowess shooting the three ball proved to be the difference.

Down by as many as 20 points early in the game, Villanova showed the same resolve fans have seen from the team all season to fight their way back and make this an exciting contest.  The Wildcats stayed the course and continued to chip away at the lead, even taking a one-point lead in the second half.  That being said, Villanova played just as well as North Carolina throughout the evening; the only difference was that the ACC team was the one hitting its three-point shots.  The Tar Heels finished 11-21 from behind the arc, connecting with a big three whenever Villanova was ready to pull ahead, while the Wildcats only hit 4 of 21 three-point attempts.  The achilles heel for the Wildcats all year has been their three-point defense and that proved to be the difference in their final game of the season, as they fell to the Tar Heels 78-71.

Freshman Ryan Arcidiacono had a poor showing in his first taste of tournament action, finishing just 2-11 from the field and with more turnovers (4) than assists (3).  However, a trio of his teammates had excellent performances to keep Villanova within striking distance.  Mouphtaou Yarou left everything on the court in his last collegiate game, finishing with 17 points and 8 rebounds.  Sophomores JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard paced the team with 20 and 18 points, respectively, on a combined 16-30 from the field.

For North Carolina, P.J. Hairston continued his torrid play of late, finishing with a game-high 23 points on 5-8 shooting from downtown.  Reggie Bullock and Marcus Paige joined in the three-point barrage, combining for 29 points on 5-10 shooting from behind the arc.  The Tar Heels will need to shoot that well from the perimeter to win any more games in the tournament, as James McAdoo was their only significant threat from inside the arc.

Overall, this was a great season of growth for the Wildcats.  After a down year that saw them finish just 13-19, Villanova made it back to the tournament and played even with one of the premier programs in college basketball.  Arcidiacono emerged as the next in a long line of great Villanova guards.  The only rotational player graduating is Mouphtaou Yarou, but the Wildcats hope freshman Daniel Ochefu will be able to step into that role going forward.  The future looks bright for fans of the team on the Main Line.

La Salle Squeaks By In Tale of Two Halves

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The Explorers almost had a historic second-half meltdown before doing just enough for the victory.

La Salle started right where they left off Wednesday night, coming out shooting 18-31 in the first half, including 6-11 from three, on their way to an 18-point lead.  However, the second half was a different story as the threes stopped falling for La Salle and Kansas State used the energy of the Kansas City crowd (in what was essentially a home game for them) to quickly get back into the game.  With 7 minutes left, after there had been zero ties or lead changes to that point, and La Salle’s largest lead having stood at 19, Kansas State took their first lead of the game with 7 minutes left, 57-56.

With 30 seconds left and Kansas State holding the ball and a one-point lead, Wildcats’ leading scorer Rodney McGruder saw a three-point attempt rim in and out and Jerrell Wright was fouled on the rebound.  Wright calmly sank both free throws to regain the lead for the Explorers.  Then, after Jordan Henriquez missed a short jumper for the Wildcats, Wright made one of two free throws to stretch the lead to two.  Without using the team’s final timeout, Kansas City point guard Angel Rodriguez dribbled the ball into the corner and threw up a wild floater that never had a prayer.  La Salle held on to win 63-61 and earn two wins in an NCAA tournament for the first time since 1955.

Jerrell Wright was the man for the Explorers all game long, finishing with a game-high 21 points on a perfect 6-6 from the field and 9-10 from the foul line.  He was the only La Salle player able to get anything on the offensive end in the second half when the perimeter players went cold from the outside.  Also, the efforts of Ramon Galloway in the first half should not go unmentioned as the Explorers’ leading scorer dropped 15 of his 19 points by halftime.

6’11” big man Jordan Henriquez was an absolute monster for the Wildcats in this game, recording season-highs with 17 points and 12 rebounds, in addition to 5 blocks.  Henriquez affected every La Salle shot within the paint and was a safety valve for Kansas State guards on drives for an alley oop or lay-in option.  Based on the skill set and athleticism he showed in this contest, I’m not sure how Henriquez wasn’t more of a force in the Big 12 this season.

The Explorers will move into the third round of the tournament to take on Ole Miss and social media sensation Marshall Henderson.  Today’s game showed the two sides of this La Salle team.  If their outside shots are hitting, there’s no team in the country the Explorers cannot hang with.  On the other hand, if La Salle is not shooting well from the perimeter, they can really struggle to get good shots on the offensive end.  Explorers fans will have to hope the team keeps up its hot shooting from this week on Sunday.