Daily Cup of City 6 (3/9/13)

City 6 Cup 2

Yesterday’s Action

Pennsylvania traveled to Rhode Island ready to play Friday night and were neck and neck with Brown all evening.  While Brown dominated the glass, out-rebounding Penn 39-23, a swarming Quakers’ defense forced 25 turnovers to keep them in the game.  In the end, the Quakers clamped down on defense down the stretch, not allowing Brown to score in the last two minutes of the game, turning a 6-point deficit into a 66-64 victory.

Miles Cartwright had another top-notch performance against Brown, as he was the Quakers’ offense in the evening, finishing with a game-high 25 points on 8-12 shooting, including a perfect 4-4 from downtown.  Also contributing was sophomore Patrick Lucas-Perry, who came off the bench to tie a career-high with 15 points.  The win moved the Quakers back to .500 in Ivy League play with two games remaining this season.

Today’s Action

1:30 PM: La Salle (21-7, 11-4 A-10) @ Saint Louis (23-6, 12-3 A-10) – NBC Sports Network

The Explorers’ regular season comes to end in a marquee match-up with A-10 title implications.  Believe it or not, La Salle will earn the A-10 regular season title with a win and some help from their Philadelphia brethren Temple in defeating VCU.  The Explorers have done an outstanding job putting themselves in this position after starting off the conference schedule 4-3.  La Salle can drop no lower than the 4th seed with a loss so a bye to the quarterfinal round of the A-10 tournament is secured regardless of this outcome.  Of course, Saint Louis earns the top seed with a win or a loss by VCU so they will come in with equal motivation.

The Billikens enter play following an overtime loss to Xavier Wednesday night, but had an 11-game winning streak prior to that game.  Saint Louis sports a top 25 defense this season and feature a balanced offensive attack with 5 players averaging at least 9.7 points per game.   Dwayne Evans does the bulk of the work inside for the Billikens, leading the team with 12.8 points on 51.2% shooting and 7.2 rebounds.  They’re not a team with any significant weaknesses and with the home court advantage in this match-up, I don’t expect La Salle to come out on top without one of their best efforts of the season.

3:30 PM: Drexel (13-17, 9-9 CAA) @ George Mason (17-13, 10-8 CAA) [CAA quarterfinal game in Richmond, VA]

Following a disappoint 2012-13 campaign, the Drexel Dragons’ last chance at redemption begins today in the CAA conference tournament.  They’ll be facing George Mason, a team with whom they split the regular season series, with both teams winning on the road.  Unsurprisingly, leading scorer Damion Lee led the Dragons in both games, dropping a game-high 29 points in the victory at Fairfax, and a team-high 16 points in defeat two weeks later.

The Patriots are led by Junior Sherrod Wright, who leads the team at 16.5 ppg with very respectable shooting numbers of 46.2% from the field and 35.8% from behind the arc.  The Dragons have done a good job containing him this season, as he’s averaged only 13 points across the teams’ two meetings.  There’s nothing particularly intimidating about this Patriots bunch; if Drexel continues to contain Wright and plays up to their capabilities, they should keep their Cinderella hopes going another day.

7:00 PM: Pennsylvania (9-20, 6-6 Ivy) @ Yale (13-17, 7-6 Ivy)

Riding a modest two-game winning streak, the Quakers travel to New Haven to take on the Bulldogs.  While one of the biggest questions on the evening remains whether the Gilmore clan will be in attendance, both teams are looking to finish the regular season on a high note after falling behind the rest of the Ivy League pack early on.

Yale won the team’s first meeting in early February 68-59 by controlling the boards (a 41-31 advantage), and consistently getting to the free throw line, making twice as many shots from the charity stripe as the Quakers (24-31 as compared to 12-20).  The Bulldogs toppled then-conference leader Princeton last evening and will certainly be playing with confidence in what is their last game of the season against a Penn team they’ve previously defeated.  With Penn facing those same Tigers Tuesday night, winning this game is their best bet to finishing their season at least .500 in conference play.

7:00 PM: Saint Joseph’s (17-11, 8-7 A-10) @ Charlotte (19-10, 7-8 A-10)

Having clinched a spot in the A-10 tournament, the Hawks look to finish the regular season strong against a struggling Charlotte squad looking to secure its spot in the A-10 tournament field as well.  The 49ers come into play having needed overtime to best last-place Duquesne in order to break a 4-game losing streak.  If you think they were lucky to win that one, you might be right as Charlotte rates as the luckiest team in college basketball this season.  The 49ers play at a much faster rate than St. Joe’s (at about 5 extra possessions per game than the Hawks) and shoot the ball fairly well at 44.6%.  The Hawks will look to slow the game down and control the tempo in this contest.  Given the recent play of both squads, I like the Hawks to emerge victorious.

Sixers Get Hot But Fall to the Heat

The Sixers were close…but no cigar…in a tough loss to the Heat.

The four Sixers coaches seated along the bench all decided to wear gray suits Friday night; I’m not sure if this was a group decision, or if subconsciously, they were reflecting the mood of the Sixers’ season.  However, when the game got underway, it looked like the Sixers might be on their way to an upset heard ’round the world.  In the first quarter, Spencer Hawes was active in scoring 9 points, Evan Turner drained 2 threes and the Heat committed 5 turnovers.  Then, midway through the quarter, the Heat called timeout, apparently looking in the mirror and remembering who they were.  Suddenly, they were throwing alley-oops, getting out on the fast break, and ended the first quarter on a 17-5 run.

Encouragingly for Sixers fans, they continued to stick around.  The long ball was key for Philadelphia, as they went 10-21 from downtown on the game, including a scorching 7 for 10 in the first half.  However, midway through the third quarter, the Sixers were up 6 when the turning point of the game occurred.  Spencer Hawes somehow found himself leading a fast break when he scored on what should have been an and-one; unfortunately for Sixers’ faithful, the referees called a charge even though Udonis Haslem clearly had his feet in the charge circle.  Hawes, who had been playing an excellent game to that point, was clearly thrown off his game and began taking bad shots and missing defensive assignments.  What should have been an 8 or 9 point Philadelphia lead, quickly devolved into a one-point Miami lead at the end of the third.  

In the fourth quarter, the Heat finally woke up and went into world-champions mode.  The outside shooting for Philadelphia went cold and Miami continued their efficient scoring on the offensive end as the Heat pulled ahead for a 102-93 victory.  The usual suspects fpr Miami were in full search-and-destroy mode on the evening.  LeBron finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists, modest numbers for a man who has made that type of stat line look commonplace.  Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh finished with 22 and 16 points, respectively, both shooting 50% or better.

Thad Young and Spencer Hawes both did an excellent job of exploiting the Heat’s interior weakness on the defensive end.  Young finished 12-15 from the field tying a game-high with 25 points, and Hawes accrued a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, much of which came before the crucial charge call.  Jrue Holiday did an excellent job distributing the ball, tallying 14 assists, but struggled to convert from the field, going 3-11 on the evening.

Looking back, this was probably the best case scenario a Sixers fan could have hoped for.  Philadelphia played their hearts off and made the Heat play a full game, providing an entertaining viewing experience for the folks at home.  In the end, the talent disparity proved to be too great and the Sixers fell short, but it can’t hurt to be encouraged from this game.  If Philadelphia can play with this level of energy and focus going forward, they will certainly come out on top more often than not.

Daily Cup of City 6 (3/8/13)

City 6 Cup 2

Today’s Action

7:00 PM: Pennsylvania (8-20, 5-6 Ivy) @ Brown (12-14, 6-6 Ivy)

Coming off their best win of the season against Harvard, the Quakers look to carry that momentum into Providence to take on the Brown Bears, where they will ask ‘What Do You See?’.  Brown enters play riding a three-game winning streak, though the three victories were against the bottom three teams in the Ivy League.  The Bears are a poor offensive squad, ranking toward the bottom in offensive rating, no doubt hurt by a subpar 40.6 FG% on the season.

Pennsylvania won the first meeting between these teams last month in a rout, 71-48.  Penn’s Miles Cartwright scored a career-high 28 points in that game, shooting 5-6 from behind the arc.  His efforts on the offensive end combined with an ice-cold shooting night from the Bears (who went 29.8% from the field and 2-18 3PT), were more than enough for a Quakers’ victory that evening.

Penn should aspire to finish .500 in conference play, which would mean winning 2 of its final three games.  With a tough game against conference leader Princeton set for the season finale, a win here is almost essential to the reach that goal.  If Cartwright can approach his excellent performance from the earlier contest and Freshman Tony Hicks can continue his emergence of late, I like the Quakers’ chances here to pull of a mild upset.

Sixers @ Heat Game Preview (3/8/13)

Super Sweet 16 Pick Candles (13 pc.)

Miami’s winning streak has reached a sweet 16 games.

When the Sixers take on the Miami Heat Friday night, fans will be treated to seeing a former first overall pick suit up.  The national high school player of the year, he has gone on to play in the league for over ten years since telling his future team “I promise if you draft me, you’ll never regret it.”  I’m talking, of course, about Kwame Brown.  You need a lot things to break your way to succeed as a franchise in the NBA and one of those things is being bad at the right time.  Brown was the consensus best high school player in his class leading up to the 2001 draft.  Two years later, the first overall pick in the 2003 draft granted you another high school star, only this one would go on to be the best player of his generation.

It’s no secret that LeBron James is in the midst of a historic stretch of basketball.  His streak of of six straight 30-point, 60% shooting games was all over the sports world last month.  James’ current PER of 31.40 would rank as the 7th highest season in NBA history, and he’s accumulating those stats playing alongside another future hall-of-famer and another all-star player.  After LeBron hit his first game-winning basket of the season Wednesday night against Orlando, the Miami Heat stretched their winning streak to an extraordinary 16 games.  To put that in perspective, the Heat have won more games since last losing than the Charlotte Bobcats have won all season.

Besides the outstanding play of James, Miami has been receiving incredible play from Dwyane Wade, the type of production that would be getting MVP consideration if the engravers of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy hadn’t already started the ‘L, E, B,’.  Wade is 4th in the league in PER and over the last 10 games, has averaged 24.4 points on 57.8% shooting, 6.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.2 steals.  With two players competing at such elite levels and different role players stepping up every night, what’s hard to believe is that the Heat ever come close to losing.

In the Sixers’ initial game against Miami two weeks ago, the team competed hard but were overwhelmed by the amount of talent the Heat brought to the table.  LeBron James recorded a triple-double and Wade dropped 33 points on a remarkable 14-18 shooting.  The Sixers actually shot the ball fairly well, going 44.9% from the field and 11-28 from downtown.  Philadelphia will have to maintain that level of offensive production while greatly improving their defense if they’re going to stay close with the world champions.

Keys to the Game:

  • Get back on defense.  The Heat are at their best in transition, when players are throwing up half-court alley-oops to James or Wade.  Those plays get the South Beach crowd into the game, help the Miami players find a rhythm, deflate the opposition.  Prevent them at all costs.
  • Goad LeBron into taking outside shots.  James has improved his outside shooting tremendously this season but it’s still your best option as a defense.  41.0% and 42.0% LeBron is 2nd in the league (min. 100 attempts) at 75.5% from within 5 feet of the basket, behind former Sixer Andre Iguodala.  He’s shooting a very respectable 41.7% from 10 to 19 feet but you have to live with that, because if he gets to the basket consistently, it’s game over.
  • Attack the interior of the Miami defense.  If the Heat have a weakness, it’s their lack of size and interior defense with Chris Bosh starting at center.  Unfortunately, low post scoring is not the Sixers’ strong suit; Thad Young will have to do some damage down there as will Moultrie on his dives to the bucket when he’s out there.

Prediction:

LeBron and Wade have a minimum of three combined SportsCenter highlights, Sixers fans are treated to a lot of Moultrie, Wilkins, and the bench brigade in the fourth quarter, and Miami extends its winning streak to 17 games in a rout.

Daily Cup of City 6 (3/7/13)

City 6 Cup 2

Yesterday’s Action

Needing another marquee win on its tournament resume, Villanova put forth its most dominating effort this season in easily dispatching Georgetown, 67-57.  JayVaughn Pinkston took charge for the Wildcats with a game-high 20 points, in addition to a career-high 5 steals.  Villanova recorded 15 steals overall on its way to forcing an uncharacteristic 22 turnovers from the Hoyas.  The turnover situation was the second biggest factor in the Wildcats’ victory, the first being the huge disparity in trips to the free throw line.  Coming into the game ranked second nationally in both free throws made and attempted per game, Villanova more than topped its usual totals, going 30-42 from the line compared to a meager 4-8 for Georgetown.  If Villanova keeps handily winning two of the four factors to success in turnovers and free throw rate, they’ll continue to knock off the titans of the Big East in next week’s conference tournament.

In a potential let-down game before a huge regular season finale against nationally-ranked VCU Sunday, Temple maintained its focus in easily dispatching Fordham, 74-55.  The Owls put forth an outstanding defensive effort, holding the Rams to just 17 points in the first half and 34.4% shooting for the game.  With just two regular season games remaining in his collegiate career, Khalif Wyatt did something he had never before accomplished: recording his first career double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds.  Temple actually had a poor performance from the outside, missing 12 of 14 from behind the arc, but smartly adjusted their attack and focusing on attacking the basket.  The team as whole shot 22-29 from the charity stripe, with Wyatt leading the way with a perfect 10 for 10.  With last night’s business taking care of, the Owls can turn their attention to VCU, where a win would cement their tournament spot in the eyes of the selection committee.

In the last week of the regular season, St. Joseph’s played one of its finest games, securing its largest margin of victory this season in an 81-44 win over the Rhode Island Rams.  Rhode Island more than lived up to its reputation as a poor shooting team, shooting 29.0% from the field, including an almost comical 1-20 from downtown.  Ronald Roberts, Jr. led the way for the Hawks with a double-double effort of 13 points and 11 rebounds.  The win secures a spot for Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 tournament field.  They will wrap up the regular season Saturday at Charlotte before heading to the Barclay Center for the first round next Thursday.

La Salle completed a season sweep of George Washington Wednesday night, cruising to an 84-70 victory.  The Explorers shot exceptionally well in all aspects of the game, going 60.9% from the field, 12-22 on three-pointers, and 16-18 from the charity stripe.  Senior Ramon Galloway dropped a game-high 29 points including a 4 for 7 effort from behind the arc.  La Salle overcame another strong effort from the Colonials’ Isaiah Armwood, who recorded a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds.  The win clinches a first round bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament for the Explorers, who close out the regular season Saturday at conference leader Saint Louis.

Sixers Remain Cold in Hotlanta

There’s no end in sight to Philadelphia’s losing ways.

Even if the Sixers were playing in top form, Wednesday night’s contest in Atlanta would have been a tough game to come away from with a victory.  Having to hit the road on the tail end of a back-to-back and their fourth game in five nights, this was one of those games teams will chalk up as a schedule loss at the beginning of the season.  When tough circumstances meet a Sixers team with their season circling the drain, the result is a 107-96 defeat that wasn’t even as close as that score indicates.

As you might have expected, Al Horford put forth a dominating performance for Atlanta, with a strong all-around game of 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists.  However, the most disappointing aspect of tonight’s loss was Jrue Holiday, Royal Ivey and the rest of the Sixers backcourt allowing Jeff Teague to go off for a game-high 27 points and 11 assists.  This season has been a career year for Teague but he’s by no means an elite point guard; this is the type of match-up Holiday needs to win if the Sixers are going to win any amount of games down the stretch.

With the starters on dead legs at the end of this grueling run of games, a couple members of the Sixers bench stepped up with solid performances.  Damien Wilkins scored a team and season-high 21 points on 8-11 shooting.  Wilkins was hitting his outside shots tonight for a change; if he could do so more often, he would be a valuable member of the rotation as he always brings defense and energy to the table.  Dorell Wright also performed admirably in defeat, nearly recording a double-double with 20 points and 9 rebounds.  I wish one of the Sixers’ beat reporters would get to the bottom of why Wright landed in Doug Collins’ doghouse for such a long stretch in the middle of the season.  Wright brings solid outside shooting and defensive effort to a Sixers line-up with those two characteristics in short supply.

The loss marked the third straight for Philadelphia and 10th defeat in their past 11 contests.  Unfortunately, the road will not get any easier for the Sixers as they travel to Miami to take on the world-champion Heat Friday night.  I would love to say the Sixers have something in reserve to call upon and pull off a monumental upset, but that would be a lie.

Sixers @ Hawks Game Preview (3/6/13)

Josh Smith leads a Hawks’ high-flying attack.

Following a bitter loss to the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia hits the road where they’re a dismal 6-20 on the season to face a playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks squad.  The Hawks have done an admirable job staying in the hunt for first round home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs, currently in 6th place only a half game back of fourth.  The Hawks have stayed the course despite losing Bow Wow’s good friend Lou Williams to a torn ACL and having to endure the swirling trade rumors surrounding star Josh Smith at the trade deadline that eventually amounted to nothing.  They remain firmly in the pack of teams hoping LeBron tweaks a hamstring in the playoffs giving their team a chance to advance out of the east.

Atlanta returns home after a six-game road trip having lost their last three games.  However, home cooking has treated the Hawks well this season, where they’ve gone 18-10.  Lacking a true go-to-scorer, the Hawks share the ball as well as anyone in the league ranking first in assist percentage in the league at 65.3%.  Atlanta often runs it offense through the high-post, low-post combo of Josh Smith and Al Horford.  Smith does a little of everything for the Hawks, averaging 17.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game, while remaining active on the defensive end, ranking 9th in the NBA at 2.0 blocks per game.  Horford sits right there with Smith in terms of impact, averaging a double-double with 17.3 points on 55.7% shooting and 10.0 rebounds, while also accruing a very respectable 3.2 assists.  In the wake of Joe Johnson’s offseason departure, point guard Jeff Teague has also stepped up his game with career-highs in points (14.3) and assists (7.1), and sporting very efficient percentages for a guard (.450/.364/.883).  Former Sixer and teen heartthrob Kyle Korver provides needed spacing for Atlanta, ranking 1st in the league in 3PT% at 46.2%, but is questionable for tonight’s game after sitting out Monday with a toe injury.

In the teams’ first meeting, the Sixers won handily 99-80.  However, the Sixers shot an uncharacteristic 51.2% from the field in that game, and also received Jason Richardson’s best performance of the season, contributing 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists.  One aspect of that victory that appears sustainable was Jrue Holiday shutting down Teague, holding him to just 5 points and 3 assists.  Philadelphia also scored 26 points off of 17 Hawks’ turnovers; Atlanta can be sloppy with the ball at times, especially Josh Smith, so the Sixers will need to remain active on defense as they did in that contest and last night versus Boston.

Keys to the Game:

  • Force Josh Smith out of the paint and goad him into taking jumpers.  Smith ranks among the worst jump shooters in the game, shooting 29.4% from mid-range, and continues to frustrate Hawks’ fans by taking a ton of those shots.  Smith is an excellent finisher on the post and in transition so make him dig his own grave from the outside on the offensive end.
  • Holiday needs to shut down Jeff Teague again and also break out of this shooting slump he’s been in recently.  Jrue has a couple inches on Teague so I’d like to see him work to get deeper in the lane on him for some higher percentage shots.

Prediction:

Atlanta’s positive home splits and Philadelphia’s negative road splits are impossible to ignore.  The Sixers are also playing the tail-end of a back-to-back against a rested Atlanta team.  Horford has a big game against Hawes and company on the inside.  Holiday breaks out of his mini-slump but it’s not nearly enough as the Sixers drop another one in a fairly easy Atlanta victory.

Daily Cup of City 6 (3/6/13)

City 6 Cup 2

Today’s Action

7:00 PM: La Salle (20-7, 10-4 A-10) vs. George Washington (12-15, 6-8 A-10)

After a bad loss to rival Temple, the Explorers have won two straight and another win tonight would clinch a first round bye in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament.  La Salle will be playing a team laying everything on the line as the Colonials find themselves in a three-win tie for 11th place, with one of those teams missing the conference tournament entirely.  Surprisingly given their record, George Washington is an excellent defensive team, ranking among the top 40 teams in the nation in points allowed per possession.

Isaiah Armwood does the bulk of the work down low for GW, averaging team-leading 11.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.  In the teams’ first meeting at the beginning of February, Armwood had a strong game tallying 17 points and 9 rebounds.  However, the Explorers were hitting from behind the arc, going 11-25 from downtown on their way to an 80-71 victory.  La Salle will need to hit their outside shots once again to put away a Colonials’ team that has a slight size advantage over them.

7:00 PM: Temple (21-8, 9-5 A-10) @ Fordham (6-23, 2-12 A-10)

Sticking with Atlantic 10 action, Temple is currently tied with Butler for the 4th seed and one of those first round byes in the conference tournament.  Having lost the head-to-head contest to the Bulldogs earlier in the season, it would behoove the Owls to sweep their final two regular season games and hope Butler drops one of two down the stretch.  Luckily for the Owls, tonight’s game pits them against a Fordham squad that finds itself next to last in the conference.

The Rams were blown out by St. Joe’s on Saturday night and come into action on a 9-game losing streak.  Senior forward Chris Gaston, second on the team in scoring (14,0 ppg) and first in rebounding (7.7 rpg), missed the St. Joe’s game with a stomach flu and will likely be back in the lineup for Fordham.  Gaston previously missed about half the season with a knee injury, greatly contributing to the woes of an undermanned Rams’ squad.  The Owls are currently riding a 5-game winning streak and should have no problem handling Fordham.  However, the Owls dropped  a similar game to last-place Duquesne less than three weeks ago and can’t afford to slip up and take any team lightly as they still find themselves among the last four teams in the NCAA tournament field.

7:00 PM: Saint Joseph’s (16-11, 7-7 A-10) vs. Rhode Island (8-19, 3-11 A-10)

Looking to our last Atlantic 10 pairing, the Hawks look to secure their first winning streak in 8 games as they sit firmly in the middle of the conference standings.  Despite their poor record, Rhode Island has been playing tough of late, losing close games to Temple and La Salle.  Rams’ leading scorer Xavier Munford can put up points but that’s all he brings to the table, as he somehow scored 30 points against Temple without recording a single rebound or assist.  Both the Hawks and Rams play at an extremely slow pace so expect a low-scoring affair.  However, with the struggles Rhode Island have experienced scoring the basketball, shooting only 40.4%, I would expect Saint Joseph’s to take care of business at home and build momentum toward the conference tournament.

7:00 PM: Villanova (18-12, 9-8 Big East) vs. Georgetown (23-4, 13-3 Big East) – ESPN2

The Wildcats badly need a victory in its regular-season finale, coming off consecutive excruciating losses in a buzzer-beater against Seton Hall and an overtime defeat to Pittsburgh.  Villanova still finds itself among the last four in to the tournament field, but each loss is another blow to their dreams of dancing.  Unfortunately, a visit from the 5th-ranked Hoyas is not a cure for what ails you.

The Hoyas play at an extremely slow pace, having won games by scores of 37-36, 46-40, and 53-51 this season.  Georgetown finds success through its 4th-rated defense in the country and effective shooting of the basketball, ranked 50th in the nation at 46.1%.  Otto Porter leads Georgetown with 16.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game; his play of late has propelled him into the conversation for national player of the year.  Porter sports tremendous percentages with 51.0 FG%, 77.3 FT%, and 46.9 3PT%, as a true do-it-all player.  His counting stats would be even more impressive if he played for most other teams playing at a faster tempo.  The Wildcats will need to contain Porter and find some holes in the vaunted Hoyas’ defense to come out on top.  Though they have a tough task ahead of them, the Wildcats have performed well at home, where they’ve already secured key victories over Louisville, Syracuse, and Marquette this season.  Hopefully, for Villanova faithful, tonight’s contest will yield a similar result.

Sixers Play Hard, Still Outclassed by Celtics in Defeat

aiga stairs down by Anonymous - Set of international airport symbols.Source: http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/symbol-signsConverted to SVG by Jean-Victor Balin.

The Sixers continue their slide down the standings in a home loss to Boston.

For casual NBA fans wondering how the Celtics have continued to play well despite the loss of Rajon Rondo, tonight’s game was a perfect showcase.  First, Avery Bradley scored a season-high 22 points on 10-15 shooting, but more importantly, hounded Sixers’ all-star Jrue Holiday all night into a 6-17 shooting performance.  If Bradley could sustain the outside shooting he showed tonight over his career, he would evolve into a truly devastating two-way player.  The old guard for Boston also played outstanding basketball.  Paul Pierce scored 18 points including a perfect 4-4 from behind the arc, while also securing a game-high 11 rebounds and dishing 7 assists.  Kevin Garnett matched Pierce’s 18 points on 9 for 17 shooting, as he and Pierce drained an all-too-familiar mid-range jumper to stem any Philadelphia run.  Ultimately, Boston had too much talent for Philadelphia as they defeated the Sixers, 109-101.

I’ll say this for the Sixers, they’ve played hard each game since the debacle against the Magic.  Tonight, they forced Boston into an uncharacteristic 22 turnovers; there were 3 occasions where the Sixers stole a casual Celtics in-bounds pass, plays that don’t get made by a team that is phoning it in.  However, against a strong Boston defensive squad and without a true post threat on the roster, Philadelphia was forced to rely too often on long jumpers which were just not falling tonight.  As mentioned, Holiday struggled with his shot against Bradley, and although he recorded 10 assists, only one of those came after halftime.  Evan Turner was playing hard and put up near-triple-double numbers with 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists, but also had a terrible shooting night going 6 for 19.  These type of games have become too commonplace for Turner, that is, putting up good counting stats while shooting very inefficiently.  It is clear at this point he is not a good enough outside shooter to justify a lead offensive role on a team.

Philadelphia had a balanced attack as 7 players finished in double digits.  Arnett Moultrie was the first player off the bench tonight for the Sixers, playing with a lot of energy and finishing a perfect 5-5 from the field for 10 points.  It would greatly benefit Philadelphia to expand Moultrie’s role down the stretch and develop his game, as one of the few player’s on the roster who could possibly fit into the team’s long-term plans.  Thad Young also played his usual high-energy game, recording a double-double with a team-high 19 points and 10 rebounds (including an impressive 7 offensive boards).

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, they have no time to lick their wounds as they travel to Atlanta to play the Hawks tomorrow night.  With Holiday and Turner both playing 40+ minutes tonight, some other players will have to step up on the back-to-back if the Sixers are to have a shot in that one.

Sixers vs. Celtics Game Preview (3/5/13)

Like the Sixers, the Celtics have not had the luck of the Irish when it comes to injuries this season.

After the Sixers and Celtics scrapped and fought through a hard-nosed seven-game series in last season’s playoffs, it seemed as though an old rivalry had been revived with future playoff meetings all but certain.  Well, Boston held up their end of the bargain while the only bracket Sixers fans will have to worry about is one ranking Andrew Bynum’s craziest hair styles.  With an aging core of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, no one would have been surprised by injuries playing a large role in the Celtics’ season.  Ironically though, it is two of their younger players out for the season in all-star point guard Rajon Rondo (ACL) and emerging rookie Jared Sullinger (back).  Despite those losses, the Celtics continue to play good basketball and find themselves firmly in the playoffs and only 2 games back of the 4th seed and home-court advantage in the first round.

During the Kevin Garnett era, the Celtics have always established their identity on the defensive end of the floor and this season is no different, ranking 6th in the league with a 99.5 defensive rating.  Amid all of the screaming and psychotic eye-rolling is his ability to direct teammates into correct positions and demand nothing but maximum effort from them at all times.  When Garnett is on the court, Boston is the 2nd best defense in the league with a 96.5 defensive rating, while the team is in the bottom half of the league defensively when he is on the bench with a 103.8 defensive rating.  The Rondo injury means additional playing time for Avery Bradley, one of the best young perimeter defenders in the league, who will draw the assignment of marking Jrue Holiday.

Tuesday night’s meeting is the last of 4 games between the two teams, with Philadelphia having won two of the first three contests.  Evan Turner had excellent games in the two Sixers’ victories recording a 26 point, 10 rebound game, and a 25 point, 11 rebound effort.  Turner seems to match up well with Paul Pierce who at this point of his career lacks the type of raw athleticism that typically shuts down Turner’s offensive game.  That being said, Pierce has had an excellent season, ranking 7th among SF in PER at 18.54 (min. 20 mins/game), averaging 18.6 ppg with a true shooting percentage right about league average at 54.1%, 6.3 rpg, and 4.5 apg.  Pierce and Garnett really stepped up their games following the Rondo injury, the biggest reason the Celtics remain in playoff position.

Keys to the Game:

  • Get out and run.  Boston ranks in the bottom half of the league in terms of pace and, much like Chicago last week, the Sixers will find it difficult to score once the defense is set up in the half court.  Try to speed up the game and convert some easy baskets in transition.
  • Big game for Turner.  Jrue Holiday may find scoring room difficult to come by with Avery Bradley in his jock most of the night; Turner will have to pick up the slack and continue his strong play against Boston.
  • Make someone other than Pierce and Garnett beat you.  The two stars’ usage rates combine for over half of Boston’s offense on the season.  Force the ball out of their hands whenever possible; if someone like Jeff Green or Jason Terry gets hot to win it for Boston, that’s something an opponent has to live with.

Prediction: Another close defensive struggle with the Sixers’ poor late game execution once again coming back to haunt them.  Boston builds toward home-court advantage while Sixers fans look toward potential lottery picks in the world of college basketball.