Sixers @ Heat Game Preview (4/6/13)

Mike Miller has done a nice job lately in place of a resting Dwayne Wade.

Last chance, best chance to beat Miami this season for the Sixers.  With first place in the Eastern Conference clinched, and the best record overall almost assured, the Heat have been resting their stars down the stretch.  LeBron James (hamstring) and Dwayne Wade (ankle) have each sat out the last three games to rest minor injuries that they would otherwise be playing through.  Miami has also rotated some of its other key players, with Mario Chalmers sitting out three games before returning last night against Charlotte, and Ray Allen sitting out last night with an ankle injury.

Even without the two big stars for the Heat in the lineup during the past three games, Miami has played well. The Heat won a close game over the Spurs and easily defeated the Bobcats, while only losing to a red-hot Knicks team with Carmelo Anthony going unconscious from the outside on his way to 50 points.  The team has maintained its strong defense, with a nearly identical defensive rating over the past three games to its season-long mark.  However, the offense has understandably struggled without two of the best players in the game around, dropping from a league-best offense to a more middle-of-the-pack 103.9 offensive rating.

With a depleted roster taking the floor, the Heat’s remaining all-star has taken on more of a central role within the offense.  Over the last three games, Chris Bosh has returned to his pre-Heat numbers, scoring 21.3 ppg and collecting 7.7 rebounds.  In addition to the ex-Raptor, another unexpected player has also emerged lately.  In the past 4 games playing as a starter, Mike Miller has stepped up, averaging 15.5 ppg on 55% shooting, 5.5 rpg,  and 3.8 apg.  As you might expect, Miller has done the bulk of his scoring behind the arc, averaging 4 threes per game over that stretch, including hitting a season-high 7 last night in Charlotte.

All of the Miami Heat stars are still listed as game-time decisions, but there is really no reason for them not to continue resting rather than face a lottery-bound Philadelphia squad.  While a starting lineup featuring Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, and Rashard Lewis may not seem imposing, these guys have played well and the Sixers cannot take things lately if they want to win two straight road games.

Keys to the Game:

  • Defend the three point arc. The Heat’s offense has fallen off track a bit without James and Wade but they still have plenty of dangerous options from the perimeter.  Battier (42.5%), Miller (39.9%), and Chalmers (41.0%) are all shooting well above average from three-point range.  The Sixers absolutely can not afford any defensive lapses and provide these guys with open looks; Philadelphia defenders should have a much easier time without James and Wade around to penetrate and kick.  If the Sixers can limit open three point opportunities, Miami will have almost nowhere to turn to put up points.
  • Fight for second chances. Given the Heat’s lack of size down low, they predictably allow the sixth-highest percentage of opponent’s offensive rebounds.  This problem has only been further exacerbated without LeBron James around to assist on the defensive glass.  The Bobcats collected 23 offensive rebounds in last night’s game against the Heat.  In the teams’ last meeting, Thad Young had an outstanding performance with 24 points and 15 rebounds, including 5 offensive boards.  Though the Heat have played great defense without their stars, this is one area Young, Hawes, and the rest of the Sixers front line can exploit.

Prediction:

Assuming the stars continue to sit for Miami, Philadelphia has a great opportunity to avoid the season sweep by the Heat. The Sixers have come agonizingly close to the upset on a couple occasions earlier this year and should have plenty of motivation to earn a victory here.  With the recent form they’ve shown over the last couple weeks, especially in Atlanta last night, the Sixers should win a close one over an undermanned Miami squad.  Of course, if King James takes the court, all bets are off.

Surprising Start Propels Sixers to Victory

The SIxers came out of the starting gate strong to cruise to a surprising road win over Atlanta.

After a poor defeat to the Bobcats a few days ago, Sixers fans expected the worst heading into a road game against a team in the thick of the race for home court in the first round.  Instead, supporters were treated to the best 12 minutes of basketball they’ve seen all season.  The Sixers tallied their highest-scoring quarter of the season to win the first 40-26, and cruise to a eventual 101-90 victory over the Hawks.

In that first frame, Philadelphia shot 72.7% from the field, not only swinging the ball well to find the open man on the perimeter, but relentlessly attacking the paint as well.  The Sixers are not known as a great shooting team, but it’s funny how much better they look when they’re swinging the ball around, rather than taking contested jumpers.  The Sixers’ big men got things rolling in this one as Thad Young and Spencer Hawes combined to score the team’s first 15 points.  From then on, Evan Turner also got into the action as his outside shot was working, hitting two threes on his way to 10 points in the first.

Despite an early cushion, fans knew the game was not over after seeing the Sixers cough up a 16-point lead to Charlotte.  However, on this night, Philadelphia kept playing good ball with Atlanta never getting closer than 9 points the rest of the way.  Turner continued his strong play, finishing with a game-high 24 points on 9-15 shooting, and 11 rebounds.  The other members of the front court also recorded double-doubles; Hawes ended his night with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Thad Young accrued 14 points and 13 boards.  The team did an excellent job on the defensive glass, limiting Atlanta to just 6 offensive rebounds.

In the an otherwise impressive game, there were two sore spots for Philadelphia.  First, the struggles continued for Jrue Holiday, who went 2-3 from the floor in the first quarter, but just 1-11 the rest of the way to finish 3-14 for 9 points.  For the team to eventually get back to a place among Eastern Conference contenders (i.e. able to beat anyone not Miami), the Sixers need to do it behind the efforts of Holiday, not in spite of them.  His recent struggles are very concerning after such a promising first half of the season.  The other issue is minor as Dorell Wright sat out with an elbow injury, which led to 14 minutes for Nick Young.  Swaggy P was back to his chucking way, missing 5 of his 7 shots, many of them those the inefficient long jumpers he loves so much.  It does not ultimately matter in this lost season, but the less Nick Young the better, from a purely aesthetic perspective as a fan viewing from home.

The Sixers have a quick turnaround as they travel to Miami to face a Heat team resting its stars down the stretch.  A new Sixers winning streak may depend on just how many players suit up for Miami.

Sixers @ Hawks Game Preview (4/5/13)

Josh Smith looks ahead to what may be his final days in Atlanta.

After a long winter, baseball returns to Philadelphia as the Phillies host the Royals in the team’s home opener…wait a minute.   Let’s not get ahead of ourselves sports fans, there’s still basketball left to be played.  Following a disappointing loss to Charlotte Wednesday night, the Sixers look to bounce back against an Atlanta team trying to make a final push for home-court advantage in the playoffs.  The Hawks currently trail Brooklyn by one and a half games for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.  The two teams split their earlier two meetings, with Jeff Teague greatly outplaying Jrue Holiday with a 27 point, 11 assist line, in an easy Hawks victory last month.

Do not expect to see many free throws taken in this game as, much like the Sixers, one area where the Hawks struggle is getting to the charity stripe, ranking 5th worst in the league.  Atlanta doesn’t foul opponents either though, as opponents get to the line at the third-lowest rate in the NBA, and we know the Sixers have a strict aversion to earning free points.  Atlanta also does a poor job on the offensive glass, collecting the 5th-lowest percentage of offensive rebounds.  The way the Hawks go about having an above-average offense is by distributing the ball well, with the second-highest assist ratio in the league at 19.0%.  When Jeff Teague isn’t running the show from the point (7.1 apg), the Hawks like to funnel the offense through their enigmatic star, Josh Smith, in the post (4.4 apg).  The high-low post game chemistry between Smith and fellow big man Al Horford is one of the more impressive sets to watch in the league.

It’s a little easier to collect those assists when you have some shooters on the outside able to knock down shots.  The Hawks rank fourth in the NBA in three-point shooting at 37.7%.  Kyle Korver is second in the league behind Jose Calderon in 3PT% at 45.7%, while Teague (36.6%) and DeShawn Stevenson (37.7%) also shoot the three at an above-average rate.  The Sixers will have to do an excellent job within their defensive rotations to star near those guys on the perimeter and still offer help when Teague and Smith drive into the lane.

Keys to the Game:

  • Bounce-back game for Jrue Holiday. After having his worst shooting performance as a professional (and probably as a non-professional as well), Holiday cannot afford to come out tentative in this one.  He still needs to be the driving force of the Sixers attack and if he fails to do his job attacking the lane, both to score and find open teammates, Philadelphia will not stand a chance.  Of course, if he shoots under 10% again, they’ll likely lose as well.
  • Spencer Hawes needs to play Horford at least to a draw.  This proposition doesn’t sound as crazy as it might have a month or so ago given Hawes’ excellent level of play lately.  Still, Horford is one of the best big men in the league, ranking 31st in PER among all players, and ranking 4th in the league in double-doubles with 41.  Josh Smith may get all the attention given his propensity highlight-reel dunks and blocks, but Horford is the foundation of this Hawks’ squad.

Prediction:

Atlanta sports a solid 24-14 record at Philips Arena and still has something left to play for at this point of the season.  The Sixers have to be deflated from the loss in Charlotte the other night and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them come out flat.  Given Philadelphia’s poor play on the road this season and the amount of talent on the Hawks, Atlanta should win fairly convincingly.

Holiday’s Miserable Shooting Spoils Family Affair

Brick Laying Clip Art

Jrue Holiday taught his big brother the fine art of brick-laying Wednesday night against the Bobcats.

On the night his older brother Justin joined the team, Jrue Holiday showed big bro exactly how not to succeed at the NBA level.  The young guard from UCLA played easily the worst game of his career, shooting a laughably bad 2-24 from the floor.  Despite the abysmal shooting performance from their all-star, Philadelphia still found themselves down one with 30 seconds left.  Then, in typical Sixers fashion, Evan Turner’s in-bounds pass was deflected by Gerald Henderson and taken the length of the floor for a breakaway dunk.  On the subsequent possession, Holiday missed yet another runner and the Bobcats earned their first victory of the season against the Sixers, 88-83.

Philadelphia came out of the gates with much more energy than the Bobcats, recording 7 offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone, including three put-back slams.  As he has often lately, Damien Wilkins got out to a hot start, scoring 10 points and collecting four rebounds in the quarter.  Gerald Henderson kept the Bobcats reasonably close, making his first three shots and ending the first quarter with 8 points.

After the Sixers got out to an 8-0 run to start second quarter and build a 16 point lead, the wheels came off a bit.  The team was very sloppy with the ball, finishing the half with 11 turnovers; Kemba Walker especially took advantage as he accrued 4 steals.  Philadelphia also went almost five minutes without making a field before an Evan Turner jumper with two seconds left before halftime.

Things continued to unravel for Philadelphia in the third quarter; Charlotte went ahead 55-53 to take their first lead since 2-0.   As Charlotte continued to build its lead, the Sixers team could not buy a bucket.  Damien Wilkins was the only Sixers to score in the quarter until there were four and a half minutes remaining.  Kemba Walker turned things up on the offensive end for the Bobcats, hitting two threes in the quarter and doing a great job getting into the paint and kicking to open teammates.  

With Holiday shooting 1-12 in the fourth quarter alone, a couple nice efforts from his teammates went to waste.  Damien Wilkins narrowly missed a double-double with 20 points and a season-high 9 rebounds.  Coming off the bench, Dorell Wright scored 14 points in just 19 minutes, hitting 4 big threes in just 7 attempts from behind the arc.

The Sixers were burned time and again by the Bobcats’ backcourt duo of Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson.  Henderson scored a game-high 24 points on 10-18 shooting, hitting a number of timely jumpers down the stretch.  Following his third quarter surge, Walker ended up with a double-double of 17 points and 10 assists.  Josh McRoberts recorded 12 points to go along with a career-high 16 rebounds, many of them off Holiday misses.

Justin Holiday made his debut with two minutes left in the first quarter.  The older Holiday brother immediately missed two shots and committed a foul as he looked a little overeager to make a good first impression at the NBA level.  The Holiday siblings became the first pair of brothers to play in the same game for the Sixers.  They also became the first pair of brothers to shoot 3-29 combined.  Philadelphia will travel to Atlanta to take on the Hawks Friday night.

2013 Kronum Season Preview: Night Owls

McGrath will have to handle more of the scoring load this season with so many new faces on the Night Owls.

This is part seven in an 8-part series leading up to the 2013 Kronum regular season.  You can also check out parts onetwothreefour, five, and six.

2011 Results: 6-4 Regular Season, 0-1 Playoffs, 3rd Place

2011 Leaders:

NO Stats

Key Losses: Phil Cavalcante (to Work Horses), Luke Dougan (to Work Horses), Matt Sola (to Work Horses), Greg Ashton, Derek Clouser (to Work Horses)

Key Additions: Bill Zane (from Work Horses), Bob Zane (from Work Horses), Brett McGlensey (from Work Horses), Corey Chubon, Matt Nuding, Tyler Katz, Can Duman

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride; that’s been the story during the first three seasons for the Night Owls.  Despite finishing above .500 every regular season, the team’s trophy case remains bereft of hardware, with zero Captain’s Cup or League Championships to their name.  Much like the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA, the Owls were stuck as an above-average team unable to make the leap to the next level.  Seeking to change their fortune, the team engineered the largest roster turnover the league as ever seen as part of a new defensive organizational philosophy.  With only 8 returning professionals and 5 roster returnees (both figures lowest among non-expansion teams), the Owls will be counting on a lot of new faces in 2013. 

Formerly, the Night Owls always relied on a fast-paced, high-octane offensive attack, finishing last regular season barely behind first in points per game at 121.2.  They scored almost exclusively via the air, tallying by far the lowest amount of wedge shots made with just 15 total all season, and only recording 1.3 dunks per game.  The Owls excelled from the cross zone, making a league-high 73 cross shots at 30.2%, and from the flex area, the Nights Owls trailed only the Nimble Jacks in flex shots made and efficiency (46.8%).  However, much of that success can be atrributed to the league’s second and fifth leading scorers, Phil Cavalcante and Luke Dougan, who were both sent to the Work Horses in the teams’ blockbuster trade.  Even if the defense improves in 2013, the team will still need to score, and will look toward some old and new faces to do so.

Any discussion regarding the Night Owls’ offense has to start with captain Kyle McGrath.  The self-proclaimed ‘Voice of Kronum’, McGrath has a penchant for big plays only topped by his love of on-field chatter.  The man certainly backs up the talk as he finished last season 10th in ppg, 8th in apg, and 3rd in blocks at 1.8 per game.  McGrath features a loaded offensive arsenal, scoring from the flex (6th-best in the league) and cross zones (tied with now-teammate Brett McGlensey for 9th-best), and knocking down big 4-point flex ring shots (tied for 5th with 4).  McGrath will need to be the anchor for an offense looking to integrate a litany of new players and players within new roles. 

One of those players in a new role and looking to fill the scoring void is veteran Joe Tulskie, who will be switching from wedgeback to ranger.  Tulskie recorded the 5th-best Points Per Shot mark in the league last season (min. 5.0 ppg), as he was the third most efficient shooter in Kronum at 59.2% (min. 3 shot attempts per game).  Featuring a deceptive, ambidextrous shot from the flex, Tulskie should be able to maintain some level of that efficiency with an increase in volume within the Owls’ offense.  He has also been taking and making cross zone shots in preseason action after shooting just 0-4 from that area last season.  The Owls hope the added scoring will make up for losing a wedgeback who finished 5th in the league in saves per game.  In fact, Tulskie, former teammate Greg Ashton, and former Urban Legends wedgeback Cory Robertson were the only players to average a double-double last season.  PPS Shots

Other veterans who should figure prominently in the offense include former Work Horse, Bill Zane, who like Tulskie, is making the transition from wedgeback to ranger this season.  He has also been playing more from the cross zone following just an 0-2 mark there last campaign.  Chris Von Tanhausen will be back to help run the offense for the Owls, after finishing 5th in assists per game last season.  He is also one of the most active defenders in the league, ranking 2nd in steals (1.5) and 5th in blocks (1.5) per game, and will play a central role in the team’s new defensive focus.  Finally, crosser Jay Klein has also done a great job distributing the ball in the past, ranking 9th in assists per game.  Klein is the rare Night Owl who adds a foot element to the offensive attack, finishing 7th in kick points with 30, though he may need to refine it as his 40.7% off-goal percentage was worst in the league among players who attempted at least 15 shots. 

With their top four wedgebacks no longer in net (Tulskie moving to ranger, Ashton no longer with the team, and Sola and Clouser traded), the Night Owls’ back line will be manned by a trio of rookies alongside veteran Bob Zane, who finished 12th with 8.3 saves per game for the Work Horses.  Matt Nuding, Tyler Katz, and Can Duman may very well be the most influential rookies to take the field this season.  The wedgebacks have looked solid in preseason action, but if it takes them a while to adjust to league play, it will not matter how much the team talks about focusing more on defense.  Another rookie, Corey Chubon, will start at crosser for the Owls, and has displayed all the makings of being a solid defensive specialist.  Chubon exemplifies the fast, defense-first mindset the Night Owls are trrying to instill.

The Night Owls have taken a gamble in moving the team in such a new direction.  McGrath recognized that the transitional process would take some time and focused more on getting players acclimated to new roles during the preseason, rather than traditional game-planning.  The Owls’ chances of success in 2013 will depend upon whether those steps have adequately prepared a young squad for the rigors of a Kronum campaign.

Regular Season Prediction: 4-6 (T-5th Place)

With so many new faces in the mix and playing adapting to unfamiliar roles, the Night Owls may face a steep learning curve entering the 2013 regular season.  With some struggles in the pre-season, it remains to be seen whether the team’s newfound defensive commitment will stick.  They still feature an elite scorer opposing defenses will have to account for in McGrath, as well as a handful of viable secondary scoring options.  However, it’s tough to say a team has improved by losing two of the league’s top five leading scorers like the Night Owls did this past offseason.  Unless their batch of rookies prove to be immediately up to the task, look for the Owls to get caught up in the middle of the pack.

Sixers @ Bobcats Game Preview (4/3/13)

The Sixers will enter the mouth of the Bobcat to try and take down Charlotte.

In what will be the closest Philadelphia comes to achieving its dream of only having to play Charlotte, the Sixers had a few scheduled days off in between Saturday’s home win against the Bobcats and Wednesday night’s contest in Charlotte.  Sandwiched around their two meetings with the Sixers, Charlotte traveled to Milwaukee Monday and got plastered by the Bucks, 131-102.  We went into great detail on the Bobcats’ team profile prior to Saturday’s game.  To recap, Charlotte has consistently been an abysmal defensive team all season, and their offense has gone from among the worst in the league to about average over the last couple weeks. 

Zach Lowe’s latest Grantland piece described the increased role for Josh McRoberts within the Charlotte offense since coming from Orlando via trade in February.  However, the Bobcats’ attack still runs through Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson.  On Saturday, the Sixers made a concerted effort of forcing other players besides Walker and Henderson to beat them.  Although the Bobcats’ starting backcourt did a good job distributing, with Walker and Henderson tallying 9 and 7 assists, respectively, the Bobcats got away from what they like to do offensively and it worked out for the Sixers in the end.

That Lowe article also mentions the resurgence of the Sixers’ Damien Wilkins.  In his 12 games as a starter, Wilkins has averaged 13.0 ppg on 53.5% shooting and 3.4 apg.  In addition to providing some stability to the half-court offense, Wilkins is a willing defender and has averaged nearly a steal and a block per game over that stretch as well. 

The other starting forward for the Sixers has played a big role in the Sixers’ improved play of late.  March has been the highest-scoring month for Thad Young, who has averaged 16.7 ppg on 58.0% shooting, whiile recording nearly two steals per game.  Young has been the most consistently positive presence for the Sixers this season, which can lead to his contributions sometimes being taken for granted.  In addition to the excellent scoring and rebounding he provides, Young always does the little things that help this team win ball games (taking charges, diving on the floor for a loose ball, tipping an offensive rebound to keep the possession alive, etc.).

However, the biggest factor in Philadelphia’s recent success has been Spencer Hawes.  The big man has averaged 14.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg, and 3.8 apg in March, all of which are high marks for him in a given month this season (excluding the one game in October).  It hasn’t been just due to the increase in minutes as his efficiency numbers are off the chart, shooting 51.0% from the field, 50.0% from three (small sample size of 9 for 18), and 84.2% from the foul line.  In short, Hawes has looked the part of a lottery pick center, but rather than just seeing a flash of it a game here or there, it’s been over the course of an entire month.  I would say it’s an example of the classic ‘playing for a new contract near the end of the season’, but Hawes is already signed through next year.  Is the new Spencer here to stay?  Sixers management and fans certainly hope so.

Keys to the Game:

  • An all-star caliber performance from Jrue Holiday.  It’s no secret that Holiday has struggled following the all-star break, with his numbers dipping to 17.0 ppg on 41.9% shooting, and 7.7 apg.  Holiday’s splits between Sixers’ wins and losses read like a different player (20.7 ppg / 47.1 FG% / 9.0 apg, compared to 16.6 ppg / 41.9 FG% / 8.1 apg).  Even though he didn’t play especially well against Charlotte Saturday, it wasn’t until he came alive in the fourth quarter that the Sixers put the game away.  As Holiday goes, so go the Sixers this season.
  • Once again employ the strategy of making Bobcats other than Walker and Henderson beat you.  The main reason Charlotte was able to hang around with the Sixers was that Michael Kidd-Gilcrist had his best game in months since hitting the rookie wall.  If he doesn’t shoot an unsustainable 9 for 11 during the game, the Sixers have a comfortable lead before the closing minutes. 

Prediction:

Philadelphia has largely taken care of business against the worst defensive teams in the league this season, with a combined 9-4 record against Charlotte, Sacramento, New Orleans, Orlando, and Cleveland.  As evidenced by their 3-0 record against the Bobcats, the Sixers match up extremely well with Charlotte.  The usually stagnant Philadelphia half-court offense plays reasonably well against the tissue-soft Bobcats defense, while Charlotte does not have the interior scoring needed to take advantage of the Sixers’ lack of depth in the front court.  The Sixers overcome their troubles on the road and complete the season sweep of the Bobcats for the second consecutive season.

2013 Kronum Season Preview: Jet Sets

Expect plenty more above the rim action from the Jet Sets in 2013.

This is part six in an 8-part series leading up to the 2013 Kronum regular season.  You can also check out parts onetwothreefour, and five.

2011 Results: 5-5 Regular Season, 1-1 Playoffs, 4th place

2011 Leaders:

JS Stats

Key Losses: Jim Andorko, Mike Schaeffer, Vince Rota (to Evergreens), Sean London (to Evergreens)

Key Additions: Mike Quintans, Don McCall (from Work Horses), Ryan Skinner (from Night Owls)

Florida Gulf Coast stole the hearts and imaginations of the American public in this year’s NCAA tournament, pulling off two huge upsets before falling to Florida in the sweet sixteen.  Featuring a care-free attitude and a penchant for tossing alley-oop dunks to grace the Sportscenter top 10 lists, ‘Dunk City’ became the newest craze in the world of sports.  But before anyone had ever heard of Andy Enfield’s high-flying bunch from Fort Myers, FL, the Jet Sets were creating their own ‘Dunk City’ culture in the world of Kronum.

Finishing last year’s regular season 3rd in points per game at 119.2 (just behind the leading 122.3 mark by the Nimble Jacks), the Jet Sets undoubtedly scored in a variety of ways.  The most unique and defining way, though, was through their commitment to scoring from the goal zone area, as they recorded far and away the most dunks in the league at 6.8 dunks per game.  5 of the top 10 dunks leaders all wore the bright blue and white, with departing wedgeback Jim Andorko leading the league, and Nick DeLuca and Vinny Greco finishing third and fourth, respectively.  Not only can dunking on the opponent provide a psychological edge, but goal zone scoring stretches out the defense and opens things up for your fellow attackers in the open field.

Those fellow attackers certainly took advantage as Jeff Regensburg, Matt Parsons, and rookie of the year Stephen Vandenberg finished among the top 8 scorers in the league.  All of them were more than capable of hitting the big shot, as the three leading scorers for the Jet Sets ranked in the top 11 scorers from the cross zone area.  The entire team as a whole shot the ball exceptionally well, as the Jet Sets were the most efficient shooting team in the league at 45.9%, and the best cross zone shooting team at 30.6%.

In particular, the man they look toward is Jeff Regensburg, who led the league in scoring for the third straight season.  With a cannon for an arm, Regensburg is as dangerous as anyone in Kronum for the flex zone, leading the league in points from that area, while sporting the 9th-best flex zone shooting percentage at 52.0% (min. 4 attempts per game).  Additionally, Regensburg shot 50.0% on penalty shots to lead the league in penalty shot points.

Stephen Vandenberg will enter his second season in 2013, looking to build upon an excellent rookie campaign that saw him record some tremendous point totals while maintaining his efficiency as the 9th-best shooter in the league at 48.4% (min. 4 attempts per game), including the 4th-best mark from the flex zone at 56.7%.

Besides the Jet Sets’ big three, ranger Nick DeLuca makes his impact known as perhaps the most versatile player in the league.  Alongside his goal zone prowess, DeLuca led the league in wedge zone points while shooting a solid 42.9% from that area; he also finished fourth in the league in assists.  Another ranger, Mike Quintans, is the early favorite for rookie of the year, and should provide another arm to add to the Jet Sets’ deep arsenal. 

The biggest X-factor in 2013, however, will be captain Matt Parsons.  Parsons missed half of last season due to a broken collarbone suffered in the pre-season.  Upon his return, Parsons did not miss a beat, leading the league in assists per game in addition to finishing 6th in ppg.  He excelled in the middle of the field on both sides of the ball, leading the league in cross zone shooting percentage at 56.3% (min. 10 attempts), while also leading the league in steals per game at 1.6.  Having Parsons available from week one on will be a huge boost for an already potent Jet Sets attack.

With all of these profilic scoring numbers, you might assume the Jet Sets to be among the favorites for the 2013 title.  Unfortunately for Jet Sets supporters, the team has never proven an ability to shut down an opposing team or get key stops when needed, as they are perennially among the worst teams in the league in opposing points per game.   The Sets allowed over 100 points in half of last season’s regular season games, including permitting opposing totals of 165 and 153 points.  Defensive prospects do not look to have improved for 2013, either.  Vinny Greco does return to head the wedgeback unit after finishing sixth in the league in saves per game.  However, the team’s second-leading wedgeback, Jim Andorko, will not be returning, nor will Mike Schaeffer, who was regarded as the team’s best defensive field player.    

With all of the team’s offensive talent at their disposal, the Jets Sets certainly have enough pieces to contend in the league.  The team will drop some of the highest single-game point totals and be featured on plenty of top 10 plays during the upcoming season.  The biggest question remains whether Parsons can institute a defensive system and garner his team’s commitment to play hard both ways.   

Regular Season Prediction: 3-7 (7th Place)

The Jet Sets are practically a lock to finish in the top half of the league in scoring.  With captain Matt Parsons at the controls for a full season, their offensive attack should be more dangerous than ever.  However, there are two sides to the game and Kronum titles are not won like a fantasy sports league.  Until they can feature a staunch defense to complement their powerful offense, the Jets will remain a team known more for highlight-reel plays than victories.

Sixers Keep the Bobcats at Bay

Bobcat Clip Art

The Sixers easily dispatched of the Bobcats for their third win in three tries against them this season.

On a night when many fans in attendance likely came to the arena just to receive an Iverson bobblehead, they got more than they bargained for: another Sixers win, some exciting fourth quarter action, free big macs, and yes, the bobblehead.  It was not a dominating effort throughout by the Sixers against the team with the worst record in the NBA, but Philadelphia did just enough down the stretch to earn a 100-92 victory against Charlotte.  After the game was tied 82-82, Jrue Holiday finally snapped out of his game-long scoring funk, scoring 9 of his 14 points in the final six minutes, including a huge dunk between two Bobcats defenders.  With Holiday leading the way in the closing moments, the Sixers finally strung some stops together to pull away from a feisty Charlotte team that refused to go away.

The Bobcats shot 63.6% in the first quarter to jump out to an early lead, combining unsustainable shooting on long jumpers with an attacking mentality, tallying 20 points in the paint in the opening frame.  After hitting the rookie wall, Michael Kidd-Gilcrist played his best game in months, scoring 11 points in the first on 5-6 shooting, finishing with a team-high 21 points.  Damien Wilkins initially kept the Sixers within striking distance, recording 9 points on 4-5 shooting in the game’s first 8 minutes.

In the second period, Charlotte’s outside shots stopped falling and the Sixers did a better job protecting the paint, while continuing to probe the porous Bobcats defense themselves.  As usual, the energy of Thad Young overwhelmed an opponent, as he ended the half with 13 points on 6-7 shooting and 8 rebounds.  The Sixers as a team did an excellent job of moving the ball around and finding the open man, as 17 of their 20 made field goals in the half were assisted.  A nine-point deficit became a three-point halftime lead.

Coming out of the locker room, Evan Turner had a huge quarter, scoring 13 points in the third quarter for the second straight game.  Turner’s mid-range jumper was falling as he buoyed a Sixers offense that became a little stagnant in the second half; he finished the game with a team-high 22 points and 7 rebounds.

Following Holiday’s late surge for the victory, the Sixers find themselves having won three straight and 7 of their past 11 games.  Their recent success makes that 12 out of 13-game losing streak a month ago look that much worse.  If Philadelphia had just played .500 ball during that stretch, they would find themselves in good playoff position given Boston and Milwaukee’s recent struggles.  Unfortunately, it did happen and Sixers fans will just have to take solace in the fact that the team has enough character to pull things together and play some good basketball as the season winds down to an end.  Philadelphia will next hit the road again, completing a home-and-home with Charlotte Wednesday night, before facing three Eastern Conference playoff teams in Atlanta, Miami, and Brooklyn.

Sixers vs. Bobcats Game Preview (3/30/13)

Don’t worry Allen, we’re talking about the game.

On Allen Iverson bobblehead night, the Answer himself will be in attendance to do his iconic ‘Let me hear you’ gesture and remind Sixers fans of better times for the franchise.  Although it’s a lost cause at this point, it has been better times recently for the current Sixers team, who have won three of four, and six of their last ten.  This recent run of success has a portion of the Sixers community bemoaning the fact that Philadelphia should be tanking for a better draft pick since the playoffs are out of the picture.  However, at this point, the Sixers are almost assured of getting the 11th pick, so they should try to put those thoughts behind them and enjoy the fact that the team is playing better ball.

Tonight’s opponent, the Charlotte Bobcats have also been playing better of late (for them), going 4-6 in their last 10 contests.  The biggest reason has been the improved play of Gerald Henderson, who has taken on a larger role in the offense in the wake of an injury to Bobcats’ sixth man Ramon Sessions, who remains out with a strained MCL.  Henderson has averaged 24.0 points on 51.0% shooting over those 10 games, including scoring 34 and 35 in the team’s two most recent contests.  Charlotte’s offense over that period has been at an average 103.1 rating, much improved from their usual mark as the third worst offense in the league at 98.1 (one spot below Philadelphia).  However, Charlotte has been playing the same horrendous defense that ranks dead last in the NBA with a 109.3 rating.  To put that figure in perspective, the Bobcats are as far apart from the Sixers on defense, as the Sixers are from the best defensive team in the league.

The Bobcats’ biggest need remains their search for a serviceable big man, as lottery pick Bismack Biyombo has yet to develop any offensive game and still looks lost much of the time on a basketball court.  As a result, the team relies heavily on offensive production from its guards, especially former UConn star, Kemba Walker.  Walker takes the most shots on the team, while shooting a below average 42.0% from the field and 33.0% from three.  Despite his below average numbers, Walker has actually improved in nearly every category in his second season, averaging 17.5 ppg, 5.6 apg, and 2.0 spg.  Walker as gone from actively hurting his team, to putting up the numbers of an inefficient gunner; the team is hopeful he can continue to improve going into next season.

With so much emphasis on the perimeter game, Charlotte is the worst shooting team in the league with an eFG% of 45.6%.  One thing they do excel at, which the Sixers could take some notes on, is getting to the charity stripe.  The Bobcats are the third-best team in the league at getting to the foul line.  Walker and Henderson both do a great job getting to the line, ranking among the top 30 players in free throws attempts per game.

Keys to the Game:

  • Attack, attack, attack.  Going against the worst defense in the league, Philadelphia just needs to play sound fundamental basketball and the points will come.  Work the ball around to force the Bobcats into poor defensive rotations.  Get into the lane against their poor perimeter defenders for some drive-and-kick action and finishes in the lane.  Settling for long jumpers early in the shot clock is the best way to let Charlotte hang around.
  • Double Walker and Henderson on their drives into the lane.  If those guys want to stay outside and shoot low percentage shots, that’s fine, but they both do a good job in getting to the rim.  Offer help to their defenders and force them to get rid of the ball when they enter the painted area.  Make other players other than those two beat you on the offensive end, which is very unlikely to happen.

Prediction:

Each team travels to Philadelphia after a game Friday night, the Bobcats having fallen to the Knicks in a a game that wasn’t as close as the 111-102 final score indicated.  Like the Sixers, the Bobcats struggle mightily on the road, where they’ve gone 6-30 this season.  So, much as the Sixers have taken care of other poor defensive teams like Sacramento and Cleveland within the past week, they should handle the Bobcats.  Charlotte literally has zero offensive threats from their front court, eliminating Philadelphia’s biggest area of weakness.  The Sixers’ perimeter players should be able to limit Walker and Henderson and cruise to an easy victory at home.

Sixers Pull Away From Short-Handed Cavaliers

Bag Luggage Travel Clip Art

If the Sixers aren’t careful, fans might mistake them for road warriors.

There’s a saying in poker: if you look around the table and don’t spot the sucker, you are the sucker.  Far too often this season, the Sixers have looked around and seen nothing, done nothing.  However, on this Friday evening, Philadelphia recognized a depleted Cavaliers squad and went in for the kill.  Following a strong performance in the third quarter, the Sixers went on to coast to a 97-87 road victory.

After a lackluster opening to the game that saw Cleveland end the first quarter on a 7-0 run to earn a lead, the Sixers ended the second quarter on a 9-0 run to tie the game.  Thad Young was crucial for Philadelphia in the first half, scoring 14 points on 7-9 shooting, and collecting 5 rebounds.  After letting the Cavaliers hang around, the Sixers finally stepped up their game in the third period.  In his homecoming to the state of Ohio, Evan Turner channeled his days as a Buckeye in a 23-point, 13-rebound performance.  13 of those points came in the pivotal third quarter, as Turner and the Sixers continued to attack the lane and take advantage of a weak Cavaliers defense.  Once Philadelphia built a double-digit lead, it became apparent that Cleveland did not have the dynamic player needed to pull them back into the game.

Aside from Turner, who played his best game in weeks, Spencer Hawes continued his strong play of late, putting up his 6th double-double in the past 8 games, with 16 points and 11 rebounds.  Jrue Holiday struggled with his floor game early on, as the Cavs threw as many as three guys at Holiday on multiple occasions.  However, he rebounded nicely in the second half, finishing with 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists.

The victory was not especially impressive aside from the fact that Philadelphia has struggled so much on the road this season.  However, the Sixers lost this type of contest on countless occasions this year, and fans need to take the small victories at this point.  Philadelphia has shown of late that they can beat good teams at home, and bad teams on the road.  If they could put all that together throughout next season, we’ll once again be watching Sixers playoff basketball in 2014.