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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildcats Fall Short in Comeback Attempt

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

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

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

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

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

La Salle Squeaks By In Tale of Two Halves

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

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

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

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

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

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

Temple Hold On Against NC State to Advance

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The Owls played exceptionally well Friday in defeating a tough Wolfpack opponent.

In their opening game of the NCAA tournament, Temple continued the recent success of the Atlantic 10 conference in beating a talented NC State squad.  The Owls jumped out to a 16-point halftime lead behind some hot three-point shooting and an 11-3 turnover differential (finishing with a 13-5 edge for the game).  Then, down 18 in the second half and with the end of their season staring them in the face, NC State finally picked up the defensive intensity, going on a 13-3 run to get back into the game.  The Wolfpack would pull within as close as 3 points in the closing minutes but the Owls held on for a 76-72 victory.

 

Khalif Wyatt came up huge for the Owls, scoring a game-high 31 points.  Wyatt played through a left thumb injury suffered in the second half to drain nearly all of his clutch free throws down the stretch, finishing 12-14 from the foul line.  The Owls’ leading scorer set the tone early, carving up the porous Wolfpack defense, scoring in the paint and dishing out a team-high 5 assists.

Temple big man Anthony Lee was limited with concussion-like symptoms, sidelining Temple’s best interior defender for much of the game against the powerful NC State front line.  However, in his absence Jake O’Brien had a huge performance, finishing with 18 points on 4-6 shooting behind the arc, including 13 points in the first half as Temple built its big lead.

As expected, the Wolfpack dominated the game on the interior.  C.J. Leslie finished with 20 points on 8-12 shooting, and Richard Howell had 14 points and 15 rebounds.  However, the Owls surprisingly out-shot NC State by a wide margin from behind the arc.  Temple finished 7-18 from downtown, including a torrid 5-11 in the first half, as their shooting prowess overcame the usually effective Wolfpack perimeter defense.

The Owls will move on to likely face the #1 seed Indiana Hoosiers (Indiana plays James Madison later this afternoon).  Like NC State, Indiana features a good balance offensively between an interior and outside attack.  However, unlike the Wolfpack, the Hoosiers actually play defense.  The Owls will have to build off this strong performance and play 40 minutes like they did in the first half today to win again on Sunday.

2013 Kronum Season Preview: Urban Legends

The Urban Legends' 2013 success will depend on Kevin Clark rising above the competition.

The Urban Legends’ 2013 success will depend on Kevin Clark rising above the competition.

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

2011 Results: 6-4 Regular Season, 2-1 Playoffs, League Runner-Up

2011 Leaders:

UL Stats

Key Losses: Cory Robertson

Key Additions: Dan Vignola, Bryan Friedrich, Joe Ammendola, Pat Dexter

Every sport has some teams that do things a little differently.  College football has Georgia Tech and the triple option offense, the Suns famously ran their seven seconds or less offense in the NBA, and in major league baseball, the Astros are experimenting with using fans out of the stands in their line-up (I’m assuming that’s what they’re doing in looking at their roster).  In Kronum, the Urban Legends stand apart, with a unique soccer-style attack that sticks to the roots of the sport.

In the original Kronum season, every team focused on scoring with their feet through a ground game attack.  With many Legends roster members having a Drexel D-1 soccer background, the Urban Legends excelled in that environment, winning the first mid-season Captain’s Cup championship.  However, as the league has evolved, teams have moved more to scoring through the air from the flex and cross zones.  This approach possesses the benefits of increased accuracy on net and allowing less time for the defense to react to the shooter.

Due to the make-up of their roster, the Urban Legends still adhere to the ground attack.  Their 121 made wedge zone shots were almost twice as many as the next highest team (63), converting those attempts at a 39.5% efficiency which ranked 2nd best in the league.  Despite excelling in that area, the team only shoots around 37.2% overall, which is well below the top scoring teams in the league who range between 43-45%.  Their roster may lack a sufficient amount of powerful throwers to take advantage of the direction the league is heading.  By being stuck in the past, the Legends may be hurting their future.

One man who has no difficult scoring in any league environment is Legends’ All-Star and League MVP Kevin Clark.  Clark was third in the league in scoring last season at 25.0 ppg, but given his team’s slower pace of play, actually scored the largest percentage of his team’s points at 23.6%.  With a level of athleticism unsurpassed in Kronum, Clark can do it all, scoring with his feet like many of his Legends’ teammates, but also displaying a dominance from the cross zone.  There’s a reason that area of the field is nicknamed the ‘Clark Zone’, as Kevin led the league with 176 cross zone points, almost double the next highest total, Luke Dougan with 100.  He also hit some big ring shots as his 4 8-point Kronums tied for most in the league with the Work Horses’ Dave Slusser.

Another pivotal piece for the Legends is All-Star wedgeback Kevin Glover.  Glover leads his team’s ground attack as he tied for 2nd in the league with 28 kick shots made with the Work Horses’ Matt Urglavitch.  Glover is more than a one-trick pony, though, as his added prowess from the flex zone is what makes him so valuable to the Legends.  He was third on the team in flex zone scoring behind teammates Mike Ragan and Brian Sperling, but his 7 ring shots made from the flex zone tied Joe Petrino for best in the league.  Those big 4-point ring shots bring a necessary added dimension to the Legends’ offense.

The Urban Legends are the final of three teams returning a league-best 11 roster members.  However, one departure sticks out like a sore thumb as Cory Robertson will not be re-joining the team in 2013.  In addition to leading the team in saves, Robertson was 5th on the team in scoring and 4th in assists, while ranking as one of only three players in the league to average a double-double, along with the Night Owls’ Joe Tulskie and Greg Ashton.  Robertson had also earned a reputation as the best shootout wedgeback in Kronum, having led the Legends to two shootout victories last season, including one in the semifinals.  Robertson’s combination of clutch play, overall floor game, and team leadership represents a huge loss for the Legends in the upcoming season.

Rookie Dan Vignola will fill the vacated starting wedgeback position left by Robertson; another Drexel soccer alumnus, Vignola is another in a long line of Legends who will excel from the wedge zone.  Another important rookie for the Urban Legends is Bryan Friedrich.  Captain Scott Anderson will look to Friedrich to play all three positions as a super-utility man off the bench.  Friedrich can use both hands and feet and should be a valuable contributor once he gains more experience.  

Other players counted on by the Legends are third-leading scorer Mike Ragan, as well as Greg Ermold and Brian Sperling.  Ermold and Sperling both averaged double digits last season while having the two best shooting percentages of returning players (min. 3 shot attempts per game) at 48.0% and 46.9%, respectively.  Added contributions for these guys, in addition to one or two of the rookies stepping up, will be counted upon to fill the void left by Robertson’s departure.

The Urban Legends’ soccer background serves them well on the defensive end, as their speed and stamina enables one of the premier defensive teams in Kronum.  As a result, they should remain close in every contest; the deciding factor will be whether they can improve upon their scoring efficiency.  The Legends certainly have the talent and athleticism to be a force in the league.  It will be up to Anderson to strike the right balance between playing to the team’s strengths and finding more help for Clark in scoring through the air.

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

As we’ve discussed and will expand upon in future previews, some other teams in the Kronum league have made some big acquisitions to try and make the leap into the upper half of the league.  The Legends have not brought in any players with proven experience while losing on-field leadership and one of the unique talents in the league in Cory Robertson.  With Kevin Clark sure to draw plenty of attention from opposing defense, if one or two rookies prove to be instant contributors, the Legends have the ability to make another deep playoff run.  However, the Robertson loss and the continued evolution of the game through the air will prove to be huge factors as the Legends drop a bit off last season’s pace.

#13 La Salle vs. #4 Kansas State NCAA 2nd Round Game Preview

La Salle may have reached the end of the track facing a tough Kansas State opponent.

La Salle played one of its best games of the season in its first round tournament win over Boise State Wednesday night.  Explorers fans rightfully celebrated the first tournament victory for the program in literally decades.  However, all that win really earned La Salle was the opportunity to pull up to the starting gate, where the field of 64 and true tournament begins.

The Explorers’ second round opponent is a battle-tested and highly efficient Kansas State Wildcats team.  At 27-7, the only teams the Wildcats have lost to are solid tournament teams Michigan, Gonzaga, Kansas, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State.  With not a bad loss in the bunch, Kansas State has no track record of playing down to its competition, which, unfortunately, is how most impartial observers would view La Salle.  Kansas State prefers to play the game at a very methodical tempo, falling in the bottom third among NCAA teams in terms of pace.  So although they are not an especially high scoring team in terms of raw points per game, their offensive efficiency numbers are actually very good.  The Wildcats share the ball and work for good shots as well as anyone, ranking 11th in the nation at 16.0 assists per game.

6’4″ senior Rodney McGruder leads the team in both scoring (15.7 ppg), and surprisingly, rebounding (5.4 rpg).  McGruder is especially tenacious on the offensive glass, averaging 2.11 offensive boards per game.  La Salle’s guards will have to be conscious of putting a body on him when a shot goes up.  That sort of crashing mentality is a team-wide philosophy for the Wildcats, as Kansas State as a team is top 15 in the country at 12.2 offensive rebounds per game.  This could prove to be a problem for the Explorers who rank only 226th nationally in defensive rebounding rate.  The other player to watch is 5’11” sophomore Angel Rodriguez, who controls the offense for much of the game for the Wildcats, averaging 11.7 points and a team-high 5.3 assists.

Kansas State comes in well-prepared for tournament action having gone through a difficult Big 12 schedule and playing tough out-of-conference games against Michigan, Gonzaga, and Florida.  Like La Salle, the Wildcats can hit the three ball, but unlike the Explorers, they don’t solely rely on it.  Kansas State is likely the most balanced and consistent opposition La Salle has faced this season.  It was nice that La Salle supporters had a couple days to bask in the glow of a tournament victory, but it looks like their run will end here.

Sixers Join Tanking Cause in Final Minutes

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Those fans in favor of tanking received a late unexpected surprise.

As much as Wednesday night’s game could have been construed as a ‘schedule loss’ ahead of time, Philadelphia had some trends on their side heading into play.  Denver’s starting point guard Ty Lawson was ruled out with a bruised heel suffered in Tuesday night’s game at Oklahoma City, while key rotational player Wilson Chandler also sat out with a shoulder injury.  For a while, it looked like the Sixers would pull off the unlikely and hand Denver only their fourth defeat at home this season.  However, down the stretch, it seemed like the voices of a segment of Sixers fans calling for losses and a higher draft pick were finally heard.  Or, Philadelphia was just interested in finding a new and exciting way to lose a game during this disappointing season.  Either way, the final moments of the game were a painful look at how not to secure a win in the NBA.

Philadelphia was up eight with 2 minutes to play but allowed the Nuggets to chip away at that lead to bring the game within striking distance in the closing seconds.  Leading by two with under ten seconds left, Evan Turner stepped to the line and promptly missed two free throws.  On the ensuing posession, Corey Brewer threw up a wild three but Damien Wilkins made the boneheaded move to foul him on the follow-through.  Brewer would sink all three free throws to put Denver ahead, 101-100.  Doug Collins called a time-out to draw up a play for the game-winning shot; however, either the players didn’t execute properly or the play was for a Damien Wilkins 21-footer surrounded by two defenders.  The partially blocked shot never even reached the rim as Philadelphia lost its 15th straight game on the road.

Prior to the catastrophic ending, the Sixers received some excellent efforts along the way.  Spencer Hawes continued what has been a couple weeks of outstanding performances, putting up 17 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocks, before fouling out of the game with two minutes left.  I think someone forgot to tell Hawes he signed a two-year deal because he’s playing out the end of this season like it’s a contract year.  Jrue Holiday scored 18 points and recorded a career-high-tying 15 assists.  Damien Wilkins actually played an excellent game, scoring a season-high 24 points, but all fans will remember from his night is the terrible foul on Brewer that ultimately cost the Sixers the game.

WIth the injury to Lawson, the starting backcourt for Denver was comprised of former Sixers as Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala both had solid outings with 21 and 13 points, respectively.  Even so, the man that stole the show was Corey Brewer, who came off the bench to score a game-high 29 points and 5 steals.  At one point, he was seen yelling to the Sixers bench ‘You can’t guard me’. Unfortunately for Sixers fans, those words were prophetic as Brewer hit a number of big shots down the stretch including the game-winning free throws.

Following the game, Comcast’s Molly Sullivan interviewed Andre Iguodala about his thoughts on the game; this interview was an odd change as usually she doesn’t interview a member of the opposing team.  Maybe it was just due to the fact that Iguodala was a member of the Sixers for such a long portion of his career.  Or maybe no Sixer wanted to put into words just how disappointing a loss he experienced tonight.  Honestly, I hope it was the latter, at least that would show they cared.

#9 Temple vs. #8 NC State NCAA 2nd Round Game Preview

It's been a long time since Temple experienced some postseason glory.

It’s been a long time since Temple experienced some postseason glory.

The Temple Owls kick off their 2013 NCAA tournament Friday afternoon, looking to end a recent string of poor tournament showings.  The Owls have been knocked out in the first round 4 of the past 5 years, with their lone victory a 2-point win over an inferior Penn State team.  To end that stretch of poor play, the Owls will have to go through a talented but inconsistent North Carolina State squad.

The Wolfpack are an incredibly efficient offensive team, rated 11th in the nation on that side of the ball, while shooting 49.4% (5th best nationally).  However, the downfall for them this season, and the reason they did not reach their lofty expectations, has been a lack of commitment on the defensive end.  Temple fits a similar profile, with the Owls also performing much better scoring the rock than stopping the opposition.  However, unlike the Owls, NC State does not rely on the three ball, among the lowest in the nation at only 5.3 made threes per game.  The Wolfpack do the bulk of their damage on the inside behind 6’9″ Junior C.J. Leslie and 6’8″ Senior Richard Howell (12.7 ppg and 10.7 rpg).  Temple’s Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Anthony Lee will have their hands full defending the paint against that duo.

Despite its shortcomings defensively, one thing NC State does well is limit its opponents to just 29.9% from behind the arc, good for 18th in the nation.  The main reason behind this is the incredible size on the roster, with all five starters ranging in height from 6’5″ to 6’9″.  With that much length on the perimeter, the Wolfpack can cover a lot of ground and challenge nearly every shot.  This aspect of their opponent could spell trouble for an Owls’ team that relies so heavily on outside shooting.  Khalif Wyatt, especially, may struggle as he generally uses his size and strength to take advantage of smaller guards defending him, which will not be the case here.

Ultimately, the Wolfpack appear to be a terrible match-up for the Owls.  North Carolina State has the size and length to negate the Temple perimeter attack, and the Owls are not built to bang with aggressive scorers in the paint.  Unfortunately for Owls fans, it looks like the bad stretch of tournament showings may continue this year.

Sixers @ Nuggets Game Preview (3/21/13)

The Sixers will run into a buzzsaw as they travel to Denver.

Following a blow-out loss to the Clippers Tuesday night, Philadelphia will board a quick flight to Denver to take on the Nuggets.  Unfortunately for the Sixers, Denver is tied with Miami for the best home record in the NBA at 30-3.  The Nuggets play at the second fastest pace in the NBA, using a deep roster of quick, rangy wing players to jump the passing lanes and get out in the open court.  The mile-high altitude makes this style of play even more dangerous when the Nuggets are at home, as opponents find it even more difficult to keep up with Denver at the Pepsi Center.

Denver has played exceptionally well of late, with Miami’s historic winning streak overshadowing the fact that the Nuggets are on a run of 13 straight of their own.  The run has propelled them into a three-way tie for the 3rd seed in the Western Conference.  Denver knows how valuable home court advantage in the playoffs will be given their dominance at home and are unlikely to take any game lightly.  Denver’s last game was an impressive road over the Thunder; the Nuggets have seemingly figured out things on the defensive end, as their 98.6 defensive rating during the win streak would rank 3rd best in the NBA over the course of the season.  If Denver has figured out things on that end of the floor, the rest of the league should be on watch.

The Sixers defeated Denver in the opening game of the season, but that was a completely different Denver team that was without an injured Danilo Gallinari and still learning how to play with new acquisition Andre Iguodala.  The Nuggets have all hands on deck and Iguodala is putting up his usual stat-stuffing numbers at 12.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game.  Look for him to step up to try and earn his first win against his former team.

Keys to the Game:

  • Limit the turnovers. If the Sixers hold on to the ball like they did last night in Los Angeles, they’ll be blown off the court.  The way to beat Denver is to prevent them from getting out on the fast break and force them to score out of their half court sets, where they can struggle at times.
  • Keep Denver off the offensive glass.  Denver has the 2nd highest offensive rebounding rate in the league, led by Kenneth Faried and Kosta Koufos.  Thad Young, especially, will need to concentrate on that area of the game to deal with the strength and tenacity of Faried.

Prediction:

Denver is far too dangerous at home, and Philadelphia struggles far too much on the road, for the Sixers to pull out a victory on the tail end of a back-to-back.  Andre Iguodala tallies a near-triple-double against his old team as the Nuggets cruise to a victory.