Sixers vs. Blazers Game Preview (3/18/13)

WFC

The Sixers finish a four-game home stand during which they have played their best ball of the season.

Following a big win over Indiana Saturday night, the Sixers conclude what has so far been a successful home stand against the Portland Trailblazers.  During the last week, Philadelphia defeated 2 playoff teams, nearly took down the world champions, and moved their home record to a very respectable 19-17.  Portland comes to town to kick off a five-game road trip, currently sitting 3 games back of the Lakers and the 8th spot in the West.

In the teams’ first meeting in Portland back in December, Philadelphia lost a tough, defensive affair, 89-85.  Jrue Holiday outplayed rookie sensation Damian Lillard, narrowly missing a triple-double with 29 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists, although he did commit 7 turnovers.  Unfortunately, Holiday didn’t get much help from his teammates, especially those off the bench, who shot just 26.9% on the game.

On the season, the Blazers have displayed an above average offense but are bottom 10 in the league in defensive rating.  Lillard, the presumptive rookie of the year, has played exceptionally well all season but especially during the last 10 games, where he has averaged 22.7 ppg on 50.0% shooting, and 6.6 assists to just 2.0 turnovers per game.  All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge has been his consistently productive self this season, averaging 20.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.  However, Aldridge does a lot of his damage with mid-range jumpers from the top of the key, rather than as the prototypical big man in the post that typically gives the Sixers so much trouble.

The Blazers’ starting unit of Lillard, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum, Aldridge, and J.J. Hickson is capable of matching up with anyone in the league.  The biggest problem for the Trailblazers this season has been a lack of depth.  They have needed significant rotational minutes from guys like Will Barton, Victor Claver, and Ronnie Price; these guys have more business playing in the D-league than on a playoff contender.  One excellent, under-the radar move at the trade deadline involved Portland acquiring backup point guard Eric Maynor from the Thunder for nothing more than a trade exception.  Maynor just providing a level of play conducive to an average NBA bench player has been a huge upgrade to what the Blazers were throwing out there before.

Keys to the Game:

  • Just is he did in the first outing, Holiday needs to win his battle with Lillard.  The rookie possesses a full offensive arsenal, hitting threes at a league-average rate of 35.6%, showing off a lethal drive-and-kick game, and routinely finishing at the rim over and around the league’s big men.  Holiday needs to slow him down on the defensive end while continuing his great floor game offensively.
  • Don’t lose sight of the Portland wings on the perimeter.  Matthews and Batum shoot very well from behind the arc at 40.1% and 35.6%, respectively.  Both players are capable drivers but are especially deadly in catch-and-shoot situations.  The Sixers’ wing defenders cannot stray too far from their defensive assignment when offering help in pick-and-roll defense.

Prediction:

Philadelphia has played outstanding ball the last three games and matches up fairly well against the Blazers.  On the other hand, Portland needs this game to stay in the playoff hunt and Lillard is playing some of his best ball of the year.  In the end, Philadelphia pulls out the close victory as fans continue to wonder where this team has been all season.

Sixers Beat Pacers Behind Hawes’ Historic Night

The Sixers received a dominating performance from Spencer Hawes, which happens about once in a blue moon.

Saturday night was the type of game Sixers management envisioned during the offseason: a 98-91 victory over a playoff contender, led by a 7-footer through which to funnel the offense, control the glass, and defend the paint.  Unfortunately for Philadelphia fans, Andrew Bynum never took the court in a Sixers uniform; but for one night at least, Spencer Hawes did his best impersonation of an elite NBA center.  Hawes scored 18 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, and 7 blocks in what will be Exhibit A for his agent in any future contract negotiations.  It was a historic performance, as only Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and David Robinson have put up games with at least those numbers since 1985.  Every positive facet of Hawes’ game was on display and cranked up to max; when he’s hitting his mid-range shot and finding Thad Young with quick passes from the high post, it becomes a little clearer why teams are fascinated by his potential.  For one game, that potential became reality and it was a joy to watch for Sixers fans.

After a close battle throughout the first three quarters, Philadelphia pulled ahead with a 19-4 run to begin the fourth.  The Pacers may have ran out of gas on their second game of a back-to-back.  The other star of the game for the Sixers was Jrue Holiday, who continued his stupendous play this week with a game-high 27 points and 12 assists.  When Holiday plays up to his all-star capability like he did tonight, the Sixers can hang with any team in the league.  On occasions where he gets help from a big man like he received from Hawes, the team can do more than hang with them.

For the Pacers, Paul George and Roy Hibbert each had double-doubles, with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists, and 25 points and 10 rebounds, respectively.  However, despite the nice counting numbers, Philadelphia actually did a nice job shutting them down, as they shot just 15-43 (34.9%) from the field.  Following the win, the Sixers will continue their successful homestand against the Blazers Monday night.  If they play then the way they played tonight and all week, I like their chances to keep the wins coming.

Sixers vs. Pacers Game Preview (3/16/13)

Nick Young and Kwame Brown no doubt discussing unfulfilled potential and other weighty topics.

Nick Young and Kwame Brown, undoubtedly discussing unfulfilled potential and other weighty topics.

The Sixers head into a Saturday night showdown with Indiana really having played good ball this week, defeating Brooklyn and falling just short against Miami.  Like a fighter who goes toe-to-toe with the heavyweight champ for 12 rounds before losing by decision, Philadelphia will need to put that game out of their minds while putting forth the same drive and determination.  A larger-than-normal crowd should be on hand with Julius Erving in the house for the Dr. J bobblehead giveaway.  It would be terrific to see the Wells Fargo Center rocking again as it was Wednesday night; it will be up to the Sixers to bring that same intensity against the #2 team in the East.

Despite a tough loss against the Lakers last night, Indiana has played well of late, going 9-4 in its last 13 games, with the only other losses coming against the playoff-bound Clippers, Celtics, and Heat.  Defense is the calling card for the current edition of the Pacers, who rank first in the league by far in defensive rating at just 95.5 points allowed per 100 possessions.  Indiana’s strength is its frontcourt, where they start 6’8″ Paul George, 6’9″ David West, and 7’2″ Roy Hibbert.  That unit propels the Pacers 45.8 rebounds per game, good for first in the NBA.

Though emerging star Paul George gets the majority of the accolades from the media, veteran David West is probably the most essential member of this year’s Pacers team, leading the team in win shares as well as PER.  West provides a consistent source of scoring (17.3 ppg) and rebounding (7.8 rpg), and the Pacers funnel much of their offense through him in the high post.  West leads Pacers regulars in usage rate, rare for a power forward.  Even so, Paul George deserves all the acclaim being through his way as his emergence has been one of the brighter storylines of this NBA season.  George has needed to take over a much larger offensive role with Danny Granger out and has maintained a 53.3 true shooting percentage, right at league average, while putting up solid numbers from downtown (38.8 3PT%) and the free throw line (81.8%).  George rebounds exceptionally well for a SF, as his 19.4 defensive rebounding rate far exceeds the SF average of 14.5.  Plus, he has a growing reputation around the league as a defensive stopper, routinely guarding the opposing team’s best wing player, while recording 1.8 steals and 0.7 blocks per game.

Indiana defeated the Sixers rather easily in both earlier meetings this season.  Philadelphia was missing Jrue Holiday for the game back in December but had no such excuse for the 88-69 shellacking in early February.  Roy Hibbert has experienced a disappointing 2012-13 season after signing his 4-year, $58 million deal in the offseason.  More than likely, Hibbert was too busy thinking up more ideas for his fantastic cameos on Parks and Recreation to work on his post game.  However, he’s absolutely destroyed the Sixers this season, putting up lines of 19 points and 13 rebounds, and 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks in the teams’ two meetings.  Spencer Hawes must do a much better job defending Hibbert if the Sixers are going to have a chance in this contest. Keys to the Game:

  • Score in transition.  The Pacers played the Lakers Friday night while the Sixers will be well-rested, not having played since the Miami game Wednesday.  Additionally, the Pacers’ defense is absolutely smothering in the half court while Philadelphia’s half-court offense has been shown at coaching clinics in the ‘What Not To Do’ portion.  The Sixers’ best chance to score is in the open floor.
  • Another big night from Jrue Holiday.  George Hill isn’t necessarily a bad defender but with Paul George locking up the wing and Hibbert guarding the paint, he’s the man to attack on the Pacers’ starting unit.  If Holiday doesn’t approach the level of production from the Heat contest, the Sixers won’t have a chance in this one.

Prediction: Though the Pacers will be on the back-end of consecutive games, every game counts for them to hold on to the second seed in the Eastern Conference and they’re unlikely to take the night off.  With George, West, and Hibbert, the Pacers have a large, skilled frontcourt, exactly the type of roster that gives Philadelphia trouble.  Some tired legs on the part of the Pacers keep the Sixers in it, but ultimately they fall in defeat.

Daily Cup of City 6 (3/16/13)

City 6 Cup 2

Yesterday’s Action

La Salle‘s A-10 tournament run ended Friday afternoon with a 69-58 loss to Butler.  Any comeback attempt down the stretch proved futile as the boys from Philly failed to score a single point during the final five minutes of the game.  Butler dominated the glass, outrebounding La Salle 37-22, while using a balanced attack to pull away from the Explorers in the second half.  The Bulldogs had five players score double digits as the team shot nearly 50.0% from the field as a whole (49.1%).  The Explorers received solid performance from Tyreek Duren (19 points) and Jerrell Wright (14 points and 11 rebounds).  However, leading scorer Ramon Galloway struggled mightily from the field, recording just 4 points on 1-10 shooting (including 0-7 from three).  If Galloway had played to his usual standard, we would likely be discussing La Salle’s match-up for today.

Explorers fans will sit with bated breath Selection Sunday as the team is currently projected as one of the last four teams into the tournament field.  Besides their strong resume, reaturing a top-40 RPI and top-60 BPI, La Salle should be helped by their back-to-back wins against ranked teams in January.  The Explorers received a lot of media exposure for defeating both Butler and VCU in the same week.  Like it or not, the selection committee looks at the numbers but are ultimately human; their remembering a storyline like that might be the edge La Salle needs to break into the tournament field for the first time since 1992.

In other A-10 action, St. Joseph’s could not keep up with fast-paced VCU in an 82-79 loss.  The Hawks were down 15 with just over 2 minutes left to play before a furious rally simply ran out of time.  The full court press of the Rams defense once again disrupted St. Joseph’s as they committed 17 turnovers, 5 above their team average on the season.  Many of the steals led to easy VCU baskets on the other end, who finished the game shooting 50.0% from the field.

The Hawks’ two leading scorers, Carl Jones and Langston Galloway, stepped up with 29 and 25 points, respectively.  St. Joseph’s as a team shot an outstanding 51.1% from the floor and 9-17 from behind the arc.  In the end, the turnovers were too much to overcome as any time the Hawks tried to mount a serious comeback, sloppy ball control would allow the Rams to build the lead right back up.  Unfortunately for St. Joe’s, this loss ends any hope at an NCAA tournament run.  A disappointing season will likely end with an NIT bid for the Hawks.

With their NCAA tournament bid locked up following a 7-game winning streak to conclude the regular season, Temple may have found themselves up against an opponent who simply wanted it more than they did in a 79-74 loss.  Massachusetts went tenaciously after every loose ball, out-rebounding the Owls 36-22.  Following a Khalif Wyatt three to pull Temple within two with just under a minute left, the Minutemen’s Terrell Vinson drained a three of his own as the shot clock wound down to seal the game for UMass.

Massachusetts is now officially on the bubble after this win over Temple and if they can upset VCU in the conference semifinals, they will have likely secured themselves a spot in the tournament field.  Chaz Williams dominated play for the Minutemen, dropping a game-high 28 points and 5 assists.  After being announced as the conference player of the year, Khalif Wyatt had one of his worst shooting performances of the season, going 4-19 from the field including 2-11 from behind the arc.  Wyatt did get to the line 10 times, making 9, as he led the team with 19 points.  Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson performed admirably for the Owls, finishing with 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists.  Despite the loss, Temple has locked up a place in the NCAA tournament and Owls fans will eagerly await their placement on Selection Sunday.

Daily Cup of City 6 (3/15/13)

City 6 Cup 2

Yesterday’s Action

They say it’s better to be lucky than good; St. Joseph’s was both in the final seconds of their A-10 tournament first round game against Xavier.  First, down one with the ball, the Hawks’ Langston Galloway drove to the hoop and drew the foul with 1.4 seconds left.  Galloway sunk the first free throw before Xavier used a timeout to ice the shooter.  But Galloway had ice in his veins and calmly swished the second to give the Hawks a 58-57.  Then, on the ensuing in-bounds pass, Xavier threw the ball the length of the court only to have the ball ricochet off the backboard.  The ball bounced directly to the Musketeers’ Isaiah Philmore for a wide open lay-in but the shot rimmed out.  A wonderful turn of fortune for the Hawks but I’m sure that shot will haunt Philmore for the rest of his life.

The key for the Hawks was a 12-0 run midway through the second half, to turn an eight-point deficit into a four-point lead.  Halil Kanacevic was huge for St. Joe’s during that stretch, recording 7 points and an assist.  Kanacevic finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists, while Galloway led the Hawks with 14 points.  With the victory, St. Joseph’s keeps its NCAA tournament dreams alive for another day, as they’ll take on VCU tonight (see below).

After playing the night before in their win against St. John’s, it seemed Villanova did not have enough left in the tank to beat a team of Louisville’s caliber, falling 74-55.  The Wildcats did not have their legs under them on their outside shooting, missing 10 of their 12 three-point attempts.  Villanova also did a terrible job securing the basketball, turning the ball over 24 times.  You cannot beat any team turning the ball over that many times, let alone an elite team like the Cardinals.  One guy who did come to play for the Wildcats was JayVaughn Pinkston, who scored a team-high 21 points on 8-17 shooting.  For Louisville, Russ Smith was too much for the Wildcats to contain, dropping a game-high 28 points.  Smith’s elite ability to get to the free throw line was on full display, as he sunk 10-11 on the evening.

There is no shame in losing to one of the best teams in the country when you had to play the night before.  Despite this loss, Villanova has built a strong tournament resume and should certainly expect to hear its name called by the selection committee on Sunday.

Today’s Action

2:30 PM: La Salle (21-8. 11-5 A-10) vs. Butler (25-7, 11-5 A-10) [Quarterfinals, A-10 Tourn.]

The Explorers open their 2013 A-10 Tournament journey against the Butler Bulldogs, fresh off their victory against Dayton in the first round yesterday.  La Salle is currently listed as one of the last four teams in the NCAA field; another win against a highly-regarded Butler squad would be a huge boost to their tournament hopes.  In the teams’ lone meeting this season back in January, La Salle prevailed in dramatic fashion, winning 54-53 on a Ramon Galloway shot with under three seconds remaining.

Butler had entered that game ranked 9th in the country and riding a 13-game winning streak.  The Bulldogs have struggled a bit since then, having lost an additional 4 games and dropping out of the rankings entirely.  The Bulldogs are led by senior guard Rotnei Clarke, who leads the team at 16.7 ppg.  The Arkansas transfer is the main threat for Butler from the outside, accounting for over 50% of the team’s made three point shots this season.  As a team, Butler has a solid profile but may be a bit overrated as this season’s team is among the 10 luckiest teams in the nation in regard to record versus point differential.

Certainly, Butler is a dangerous team capable of taking down any opponent in a given night.  Brad Stevens is an excellent coach and his tournament resume speaks for itself.  However, this Bulldogs’ team does not quite have the talent the program has possessed in past years.  If the Explorers play up to their capabilities, there is no reason they can’t send Butler home unhappy for the second time this season.

6:30 PM: St. Joseph’s (18-12, 8-8 A-10) @ VCU (24-7, 12-4 A-10) [Quarterfinals, A-10 Tourn.]

After escaping their first-round game against Xavier by the skin of their teeth, the Hawks take the court once again to face a rested VCU squad.  When the two teams met in Richmond in January, the Hawks forced overtime before falling to the Rams, 92-86.  The Hawks shot the ball extremely well in that contest at 52,3%; however, VCU’s signature full court pressure gave St. Joseph’s a ton of problems, as they committed 19 turnovers as opposed to only 5 for the Rams.  The Hawks are among the slowest-paced teams in the nation, playing the game at VCU’s speed is not playing to their strength.  Unfortunately, the Rams excel at speeding up their opponents and it will be a tough task for the Hawks to play the game at their desired tempo.

The Rams lost last Sunday at Temple, in what was an extremely difficult road environment on the Owls’ Senior Day.  However, VCU had won 8 of 9 games before traveling to Temple and are likely to have a bounce-back game.  Given the poor match-up in terms of style and the talent and depth of the VCU roster, I believe the Hawks’ postseason run will end here.  However, Phil Martelli is one of the great minds in college basketball so we’ll have to see what he has in store.

9:00 PM: Temple (23-8, 11-5 A-10) vs. Massachusetts ([Quarterfinals, A-10 Tourn.]

Temple enters its quarterfinal contest against UMass riding a season-high 7-game winning streak and featuring the A-10 Player of the Year, after Khalif Wyatt received the honor two days ago.  The Owls played one of their best games of the season Sunday in their victory over VCU and will look to avoid a let-down against a Minutemen team they squeaked past last month on the road, 83-82.  Wyatt scored 24 points in that game behind 6-11 shooting from behind the arc.  Freddie Riley was the main outside threat for Massachusetts, hitting 5-9 threes on his way to a team-high 17 points.  However, the keys to the Minutemen offense were in the hands of junior Chaz Williams, who recorded 16 points and 13 assists.  Williams has been the driving force for UMass all season, leading the team at 15.4 ppg and 7.6 apg (good for 5th in the nation).

Like the Owl’s last opponent VCU, the Minutemen look to speed up the game, playing at a top-20 pace.  That tempo should suit Temple and its talented group of guards just fine, especially after preparing for the Rams in their last contest.  Rotate Cummings and DiLeo on Chaz Williams and constantly dog him off the ball defensively.  Although UMass is no pushover, with the way the Owls are playing of late, I would be surprised if they did not advance to the semifinal round to play the winner of VCU and St. Joe’s.

Daily Cup of City 6 (3/14/13)

City 6 Cup 2

Yesterday’s Action

Coming off a tremendous victory over Georgetown in its regular season finale, Villanova could have come into the Big East tournament unfocused and primed for a let-down game.  However, the Wildcats knew every win was another brick in their tournament foundation, and brought the defensive intensity, in a 66-53 win over St. John’s.  With leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison suspended, the Red Storm struggled to maintain consistent offense, finishing just 35.6% from the floor, including 2-11 from downtown.  The Wildcats also initially struggled on the offensive end, as the teams went into halftime tied 24-24.  Finally, midway through the second half, Villanova came to life, going on a 10-2 run to pull ahead for good.  Mouphtaou Yarou buoyed the Villanova offense, shooting 9-10 from the field for a game-high 18 points.

With their continued fine play, the WIldcats are upward movers on the latest NCAA bracket predictions and should have a tournament bid, locked down, as ESPN’s Ryan Feldman states:

With 5 wins against the top 50 and 8 wins against the top 100, it’s likely that Villanova has wrapped up an at-large bid with this win.

Villanova will continue their Big East tournament journey against the Louisville Cardinals tonight (read below).

Today’s Action

6:30 PM: St. Joseph’s (17-12, 8-8 A-10) @ Xavier (17-13, 9-7 A-10) [1st Round, A-10 Tournament] – NBC Sports Network

With the 2012-13 regular season largely viewed as a disappointment, the Hawks will look to erase those negative feelings by pulling off the unlikely feat of winning the A-10 tournament.  The first step in that quest will pit St. Joe’s against an Xavier squad they defeated at home, 59-49, in late January.  These two squads are about as evenly matched as you will come across, featuring similar offensive and defensive efficiency profiles, and both preferring to play the game at a slow pace.

Like the Hawks, Xavier did not meet the high expectations the team had going into the season.  Xavier has shown flashes of talent and an ability to beat almost anyone in defeating the likes of Saint Louis, Memphis, and Temple.  However, they’ve also suffered bouts of inconsistency, losing to weaker opponents such as Wofford, Pacific, and Wake Forest.  The Musketeers are led on the offensive end by freshman guard Semaj Christon, who leads the team in both points (15.4 ppg) and assists (4.7).  The Hawks did a good job limiting Christon in the teams’ first meeting, as he needed 21 shots to get his 16 points, and only dished out 2 assists as compared to 3 turnovers.  The other threat for Xavier is senior big man Travis Taylor, who averages 11.8 ppg and a team-high 9.0 rpg.

With two teams so evenly matched, the victor will likely be determined by which team does the little things: take care of the ball, get to the free throw line, etc.  Both teams know their NCAA dreams will end here with a loss so we should see everything left on the floor from each side.  Ultimately, I like the Hawks’ chances as they feature a more balanced attack with four players averaging double-figures.  If St. Joseph’s can shut down one of two main cogs for the Musketeers’ attack, they’ll likely move on to face VCU.

7:00 PM: Villanova (20-12, 10-8 Big East) @ Louisville (26-5, 14-4 Big East) [Quarterfinals, Big East Tournament] – ESPN

After dispatching of St. John’s last night in its Big East tournament opener, the Wildcats continue their Madison Square Garden journey tonight against a powerful Cardinals squad.  Villanova defeated Louisville back in January, 73-64, in the first of the Wildcats’ three victories over top 5 opponents this season.  However, all three of those wins came at home where Villanova was 13-4 this year, as opposed to only 7-8 on the road or at neutral sites.

Much like Villanova, Louisville sports an impressive defensive resume, rating 1st in the nation in defensive rating at only 81.5 points per 100 possessions.  The Cardinals’ defensive unit is anchored by Gorgui Dieng, the 6’11” junior from Senegal.  Dieng averages a double-double at 10.3 points and 10.1 rebounds, while ranking top-20 in the nation at 2.63 blocks per game.  Louisville also features a highly efficient offense, directed by senior guard Peyton Siva.  Siva leads the team at 5.9 assists per game, and represents the latest in a long line of Louisville guards who seem like they’re on the team forever (I wouldn’t be shocked if Edgar Sosa suits up tonight).  Russ Smith is the main scoring threat for the Cardinals at 17.9 ppg; like the Wildcats, Smith excels at getting to the free throw line, sitting among the top-20 in free throws made among NCAA players.

Ultimately, I feel Louisville represents too strong a foe for the Wildcats to take down at a neutral site, especially after having to play the night before.  However, there’s a reason they play the games and Villanova has already proven they can beat this Cardinals team.  Regardless, Villanova has reached the 20-win plateau and earned some high-profile victories along the way.  They should find themselves dancing in next week’s NCAA tournament no matter what happens in the Big Apple tonight.

Two Winning Streaks Enter, Only One Survives

Lebron James was the center attraction Wednesday night.

LeBron James was the center attraction at the Wells Fargo Center.

The circus rolled into town Wednesday night, and I’m not talking about Barnum & Bailey.  With the star-studded Miami Heat returning to the Wells Fargo Center, fans packed the arena, standing 10 people deep around the Heat side of the floor during warm-ups.  Flashes popping and IPhones rolling, the masses called out to their adopted heroes.  Cries of ‘LeBron’, ‘D-Wade’, and ‘Ray Ray’ rang out through the arena. There were even plenty of yells for Birdman (which I thought was pretty mean, Chris Bosh can’t help how he runs).

As the action began in earnest, the fans got what they came for.  LeBron James was all over the floor, getting out in transition, setting up teammates, and driving aggressively to the rim, including a breath-taking reverse dunk that drew an audible gasp from the crowd.  Dwayne Wade went about his business with less flair but equal effectiveness, featuring a lethal mid-range game for which the Sixers had no answer.  However, amid all the hoopla, a funny thing was happening: Philadelphia was hanging around.

Following their win against the Hawks in Miami Tuesday night, the Heat arrived in Philadelphia at 4 in the morning.  Although the Heat were getting some good efforts from their stars and recording some highlight-reel plays, signs of tired legs were there.  The Heat’s outside shooting was off the mark, as they finished just 5-20 from behind the arc.  Also, although Miami finished right at their average with 13 turnovers, a lot of them were sloppy passes that seemed to be fatigue-related.  The air was ripe for an upset and a couple of Sixers did everything they could to oblige.

The biggest star for Philadelphia was Thad Young, who played one of the strongest games of his career, finishing with 24 points, 15 rebounds, and countless floor burns diving for loose balls.  Young displayed his usual brand of hustle while also showing a more refined offensive game, attacking a weak Miami front court time and again with mid-range jumpers and drives to the hoop.  The other catalyst was a rejuvenated Jrue Holiday, who finally returned to his all-star form, for really the first time since the Golden State game.  Holiday played a complete floor game with 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists, capping his night with a dunk in the face of LeBron James in the final minutes of the game.

However, down the stretch, the Heat had future hall-of-famers and all-stars who have been battle-tested through world championship runs.  After falling behind by 3, the final 16 Heat points were scored by LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Ray Allen.  In the other corner, down three with 30 seconds left, Doug Collins drew up a perfect play to get his player a wide open lay-up.  Unfortunately for Sixers faithful, that player was not future hall-of-famer Spencer Hawes, and this happened:

Hawes botchAnd so the Miami winning streak reached 20 games as Philadelphia bowed out in a 98-94 defeat.  I’ll say this though, that fourth quarter might have been the best quarter of basketball the team has played all season.  They went toe-to-toe with the world champs and came a hair shy of victory.  Sadly, they still aren’t giving out trophies for coming up just short, as Philadelphia fans know all too well at this point.

 

Sixers vs. Heat Game Preview (3/13/13)

File:Aerial photo of mountain hayes and mountain Deborah south side.jpg

Climbing a mountain might be an easier task than beating the World Champs.

The Sixers say hello to some familiar faces, as they get ready to host the Miami Heat at the Wells Fargo Center in the teams’ third meeting in the last three weeks.  Philadelphia played reasonably well against the Heat in the first two games, all things considered, actually leading for most of the game last week in Miami before faltering in the fourth quarter to lose by nine.  The Sixers enter play following perhaps their best performance of the season, in an impressive home victory over the Brooklyn Nets.  Philadelphia received key contributions from a number of players in that contest and will need all hands on deck once again facing a Heat team where LeBron James and Dwayne Wade are far more talented than anyone the Sixers can throw on them.  I could throw any number of stats at you but if you don’t know these are two of the top five players in the league right now, you haven’t been watching NBA basketball this season.

Miami’s winning streak now sits at a remarkable 19 games with especially impressive double-digit victories over the playoff-bound Pacers and Hawks in their last two games.  One positive for Philadelphia may be tired legs for Miami, as they will be traveling on the tail end of back-to-back after facing Atlanta last night in Miami.  However, the Heat are playing probably more confident and relaxed than at any point since the ‘Big Three’ was assembled; their Harlem Shake video from two weeks ago has reached over 40 million hits on YouTube, and though it’s utter ridiculousness, you don’t do those sorts of things unless you like where you are at as a team.  Miami has finally perfected its formula for success and the rest of the league should be on its guard.

Keys to the Game:

  • Take advantage of the thin Miami front court.  If there’s one area where the Heat can be exploited, that would be it.  Thad Young had an outstanding game against Miami last week, scoring 25 points on 12-15 shooting.  He should be attacking Udonis Haslem whenever that match-up presents itself.  If Young can maintain his excellent play of late (18.6 ppg and 9.0 rpg in March), and Spencer Hawes can even approach his performance against Brooklyn, the Sixers might have a shot.
  • Get out to an early lead.  First, there should be a larger than normal crowd on hand to watch the best player in the world.  If Philadelphia falls behind early, the fans will (perhaps rightly) expect yet another loss and will be more concerned with cheering for the Lebron and D-Wade high-wire act.  However, if the Sixers can hang around, enough of the crowd remembers the hard-fought playoff series against the Heat two seasons ago and will back their squad.  Philadelphia will need their supporters behind them if they are to pull off the upset.

Prediction:

Philadelphia continues to play tough but there’s just too much talent on the Heat sideline.  Without Iguodala around anymore to limit him, LeBron James nearly goes off for another triple double against the Sixers.  Miami wins fairly easily to stretch their winning streak to an amazing 20 games, while the Sixers streak ends at a more modest one game.  Philly Fast Break will be on hand at the Wells Fargo Center to take in all the action.

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

City 6 Cup 2

Yesterday’s Action

In its regular-season finale, Pennsylvania let a win against the Princeton Tigers slip away, much as they let the ball slip out of bounds time and time again over the course of the game. After entering halftime tied, the Quakers continued turning the ball over, totaling 17 turnovers in the game to just 8 for the Tigers, and falling further behind in an eventual 71-58 defeat. As usual, Ian Hummer was the man for Princeton, scoring a team-high 18 points.  For the Quakers, freshman Tony Hicks finished off a strong second half of the season with a game-high 22 points on 9-19 shooting. Leading scorer Miles Cartwright had a disappointing outing, only tallying 6 points on 2-8 shooting and committing 6 turnovers, although he did record a game-high 7 assists.

Pennsylvania finishes the season 6-8 in conference play, its worst record since 2009-10.  Fortunately, the Quakers picked up some good wins along the way, which should provide valuable experience for a team returning every member of its roster next season.

Today’s Action

7:00 PM: Villanova (19-12, 10-8 Big East) vs. St. John’s (16-14, 8-10 Big East) [Big East Tournament 2nd Round] – ESPN2

Following a huge win against Georgetown, Villanova enters the Big East tournament off the bubble and firmly in the NCAA tournament field.  The last thing the team needs is to drop a game against a reeling Red Storm team and make the tournament committee second-guess itself.  Luckily for the Wildcats, they appear to have earned a good initial draw in this contest.

The Wildcats needed overtime to win their lone meeting with St. John’s back in January, 98-86.  Team leading scorers JayVaughn Pinkston and Ryan Arcidiacono were particularly impressive in the game, combining for 58 points on 15-30 shooting, including 8-15 on three-pointers.  Arcidiacono’s 32 points and 7 made threes were both career highs for the freshman.

St. John’s leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison was an absolute monster for the Red Storm in that game, dropping a career and game-high 36 points behind a 6-12 effort from behind the arc.  Fortunately for Villanova, Harrison will not be suiting up for this contest, as he was suspended by the team for the remainder of the season earlier this month.  The Red Storm have gone 0-3 following Harrison’s departure and in his absence, freshman Jakarr Sampson stands as the only player on the roster averaging double digits per game.  If the Wildcats bottle up Sampson and continue to get to the free throw line as they have all season, they should cruise into the quarterfinal match against Louisville.

2013 Kronum Season Preview: Throwbacks

Expect to see plenty more saves from the Throwbacks, but the offensive end will determine their fortune in 2013.

This is part three in an 8-part series leading up to the 2013 Kronum regular season.  You can also check out parts one and two.

2011 Results: 4-5 Regular Season, 0-1 Playoffs, 5th Place

2011 Leaders:

Throwbacks 2011 Stats

Key Losses: Ryan Hoff (Broken Leg), James Thomas (Relocation), Ryan Yaniak (to Work Horses), Ryan Tressler (to Nimble Jacks)

Key Additions: Brian Marron, Kevin Marron, Lou Martin, Nick Piccari

In today’s world of sports, great offenses get all the hype; fans want to see long touchdown passes, highlight reel dunks, and tape-measure home runs.  Teams that grind out low-scoring victories may do well in the standings, but they rarely get the press.  In that sense, the Throwbacks are literally a reversion to an earlier era.  Defense has always been the cornerstone of the Throwbacks team as Captain Joe Ferrigno instills a defensive mindset and sense of accountability unsurpassed by any team in Kronum.  Much like Wisconsin in college basketball, the team plays the game at a slow pace, limiting the number of total possessions and making the opposition work for good shots.  That formula led the Throwbacks to perhaps the biggest upset in Kronum history last season, becoming the first team to defeat the Nimble Jacks since 2009.  Overall, the Throwbacks led the league in least points allowed, and will likely be at or near the top of that category in the upcoming campaign.

The Throwbacks return 11 players, tied for most roster returnees of any team in the league, so the majority of the roster will only be more experienced within the defensive system.  The team features as fine a quartet of wedgebacks as any in Kronum with Jim Bradley, Steve Botta, James Thomas, and Ryan Hoff (7.6 svpg).  Unfortunately for the blue and gold, that wedgeback unit has taken a couple hits in the offseason.  Hoff suffered a broken leg and is not expected to return until midway through the regular season.  Also, James Thomas moved to Massachusetts and while he will be driving down to play with the team on game days, he may be forced to miss games from time to time.  The team has enlisted solid newcomers at wedgeback in Kevin Marron, a former keeper at West Chester University, as well as Lou Martin and Nick Piccari, who have all looked more than capable during preseason action.  Nevertheless, with their back line unit largely intact, their defense system in place, and quick, disciplined defenders like Ferrigno and ranger Nick Ferraro, the Throwbacks should experience no drop-off on the defensive end.

The main problem for the team last season and the biggest question for the upcoming campaign is whether they can keep up with the opposition on the offensive end.  The Throwbacks were next-to-last in the league in shooting percentage at 36.9%, and last in the league in off-goal percentage at 26.1%.  Bradley was their most efficient shooter at 49.3%, only good for 14th best in the league.  Besides the inaccurate shooting, the main problem for the team was their lack of adaptation to shooting from the cross zone.  The change to four points for shots from that area was a powerful weapon for many teams in the Kronum league.  However, the Throwbacks did not have the roster to take advantage of it, finishing last in the league in both cross shots made (only 25 total on the season) and cross zone shooting percentage (20.7%).

Where will the team turn to improve upon those poor offensive numbers from last season?  One key player will be rookie Brian Marron.  The other member of the ‘twin towers’ with brother Kevin, Marron has displayed a big arm and an ability to score from the cross zone in preseason play.  The Throwbacks will also use their incoming depth at wedgeback to allow some of their incumbent net minders to take on more of an offensive role.  We showed this graphic in our Nimble Jacks preview but bring it back here to point out that wedgeback Steve Botta was the 4th most underutilized player in Kronum.

Utilization

Botta shot a very respectable 46.9% last season, ranking 13th in the league (min. 40 shot attempts), while also showing a proclivity for hitting rings.  He hit 2 8-point Kronums and 3 rings from the flex zone, both tying team-highs.  The team will look to get him and some of his fellow wedgebacks into more of a ranger role when the situation calls for it.

Going into the 2012-13 season, the Throwbacks have added some interesting pieces to build upon their strong defensive foundation.  Ferrigno is as cerebral as any captain in the game and time will tell whether he can put the pieces together and take the Throwbacks to the next level.

Regular Season Prediction: 5-5 (T-3rd place)

The Throwbacks’ defense will keep them within striking distance every game; they are bound to win their fair share of games and pull off one or two upsets along the way.  Despite some improvement on the offensive end though, they are likely still one big-time scoring threat away from moving into the upper crust of the Kronum league.