Back in Familiar Territory

It was a sloppy affair in Washington Sunday night.

For any basketball purist, tonight’s game was not the ideal viewing experience; both the Sixers and Wizards turned this contest into a sloppy affair from the beginning.  Philadelphia shot 38.8% on the night, clearly having tired legs after their game Saturday and the subsequent late-night victory celebration.  Washington was not much better from the field and threw the ball away time and again committing 16 turnovers.

With both teams struggling, the game was close most of the way.  After a Washington spurt early in the fourth quarter, the Sixers went on an 11-0 run to earn a 3-point lead with just under three minutes left.  It looked like the Sixers had fought their way back for a victory two nights in a row.  Then, an old problem reared its ugly head.  Philadelphia has gone through a number of roster changes over the years but one troubling theme has remained constant: late-game execution.  With one more basket likely sealing a victory, the Sixers reverted back to isolation plays that have failed them more often than not in the past.  Holiday settled for and missed a jumper just inside the arc and then on the the following possession, Evan Turner barreled into traffic for a partially blocked runner.

With the Sixers needing a defensive stop and the ball, Nene, in his first game back following a shoulder injury, made his presence felt with a huge offensive rebound with 27 seconds left.  The Wizards ran the clock down to 4 seconds before John Wall defied the odds, nailing a contested long jumper over Dorell Wright’s outstretched arm.  Wright’s potential game-tying three-pointer found iron at the buzzer, sending the Sixers home with a familiar feeling of defeat in a 90-87 final.

Jrue Holiday had an especially poor outing, shooting 4-19 from the field and constantly settling for long jumpers.  Evan Turner was not much better, missing 9 of 13 shots on the evening as his jumper looked flatter than usual, perhaps due to fatigue.  On the other hand, Dorell Wright played well for the second consecutive game, scoring a team-high 15 points on 3-6 shooting from behind the arc.  Spencer Hawes also played one of his better games with 14 points and 11 rebounds, seeming to play more aggressively after his prolonged benching in the Golden State game.  Washington received extremely balanced scoring as all five of their starters scored between 12 and 16 points.

When it gets down to it, the Sixers aren’t going to win many games when their all-star point guard shoots 21%.  Holiday needs to do a better job of knowing when his shot isn’t falling and working to get into the lane more.  As a team, the fight wasn’t lacking tonight but the decision-making was at times.  Philadelphia will look to improve upon it at home Tuesday night against Boston.

Sixers @ Wizards Game Preview (3/3/13)

The Sixers are off to see the Wizards to ask for a winning streak.

Fresh off their first win in over three weeks, the Sixers are off to the see the Wizards to ask for a winning streak, something they haven’t obtained since a modest three-game stretch January 30th-February 4th.  Washington is the polar opposite of last night’s opponent, Golden State, ranking last in the league in offensive rating at 96.1, while sporting a league-average defense.  The Sixers defeated Washington 92-84, in the teams’ only meeting thus far, only rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal, who leads the team in scoring was out for that game with a sprained wrist.

Despite their poor record, Sixers’ fans can not assume this will be an easy opponent for Philadelphia.  Washington has gone 13-11 since John Wall returned to the line-up, a record which would make the Wizards a playoff team over a full season.  However, Nene has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, both Washington losses, and is questionable for this contest against Philadelphia.  The Wizards rely heavily not only on Nene’s rebounding and defensive toughness, but also on his ability to run their offensive sets out of the high post.  In fact, Washington is 1-14 on the season when Nene is out of the line-up, making the case that he is even more valuable to the team than John Wall.  His absence in this evening’s contest would make things much easier on Philadelphia.

Keys to the Game:

  • Take care of the basketball.  When John Wall gets the ball in transition off an turnover or long rebound, he can be a deadly scorer, getting to the rim with his blazing speed and athleticism.  However, in half court sets, Wall still struggles due to his poor-outside shooting (27.3% from 8-16 ft, 33.3% 16-24 ft, only 1-14 from three on the season).  Do not let him penetrate the lane and let him hoist up inaccurate long jumpers.
  • Fight through screens to stick Bradley Beal on defense.  Given last night’s starting line-up, Holiday and Royal Ivey will likely switch off between Wall and Beal.  Beal has come in strong in the 2nd half of his rookie season, now leading the team at 14.2 ppg, and averaging 18.8 points on 48.0% shooting over his last 10 games.  That being said, Beal is a pure catch-and-shoot player at this point of his career, as 73.7% of his made field goals are assisted.  Make a concerted effort as a team to not allow him open outside looks and he should not do too much damage.
  • Bring the effort from last night.  Self-explanatory. It was refreshing to see energy out on the court and in the stands, as fans were cheering on the hometown Sixers instead of booing them.  I’d like to see some more of that.

Prediction:

If Nene is out again, the Sixers win this one fairly easily as Jrue Holiday outplays the more-celebrated John Wall.  With Nene in the line-up, the game comes down to the wire but I’ll opt with a second-straight Philadelphia victory.

 

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

City 6 Cup 2

Yesterday’s Action

Facing a last-place Duquesne team, La Salle took no chances in stepping on their throat immediately, getting out to a 25-point halftime lead in coasting to a 97-64 win.  La Salle had an excellent game on the offensive end, shooting 51.5% on the game, and distributing 23 assists (Ohio leads the nation at 18.5 apg) against only 7 turnovers.  Ramon Galloway led the way for the Explorers with 23 points on 8-13 shooting, and 6 assists, while Jerrell Wright and Tyreek Duren dropped 16 points a piece.  With Butler’s loss to VCU, La Salle takes over sole possession of third place in the conference.

Coming in with a four-game winning streak, Temple was maybe feeling a little overconfident and found themselves in a dogfight with a struggling Rhode Island Rams squad.  However, when push came to shove, the Owls tightened the screws on defense, not allowing Rhode Island to score in the last two minutes of the game, and pulled away for a 76-70 victory.  That resolve is the sign of a good team; even when you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, you find a way to win in the end.  Each victory on this run takes the Owls further off the bubble and solidifies their place in the Big Dance.

Getting the start for an unavailable Anthony Lee, Jake O’Brien had his first double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds.  Khalif Wyatt led the Owls with 24 points in hitting 9 of 11 free throws.  Rhode Island’s Xavier Munford did everything he could to keep the Rams in the game, draining a career-high 30 points on 12-23 shooting, including 5-8 behind the arc.  Two games remain for Temple before they head to the Barclay’s Center for the A-10 tournament.

In a huge upset, Pennsylvania earned its best victory of the season, defeating Harvard 75-72.  The loss no doubt has the Crimson seeing red as it dropped them a half-game behind Princeton for the Ivy League championship and automatic NCAA tournament berth.  The Quakers had their best half of the season in the first, leading by as many as 16 points before settling in with a 12-point lead at halftime.  Harvard fought back furiously, knowing what a loss would mean for their tournament prospects, but it was too little, too late, as the Quakers held on down the stretch.

Tony Hicks was once again the star for Pennsylvania with a game-high 24 points on 9-17 shooting. Fellow Freshman Darien Nelson-Henry had a career-high 18 points and his second career double-double, adding 11 rebounds.  Head coach Jerome Allen has given the younger players on the roster more responsibility of late, and so far, the future appears bright for the Quakers.

Drexel decided it had experienced enough close games lately and put their contest with UNC-Wilmington away early in the second half in a 62-46 victory.  Despite shooting poorly at 30.6%, the Dragons absolutely dominated the glass, outrebounding the Seahawks 51-26 (including an 18-3 edge in offensive boards).  Those extra possessions were the difference in the game as Drexel attempted 8 more field goals and 13 more free throws than UNCW.

Senior Forward Daryl McCoy was the main catalyst for Drexel, recording a double-double with 13 points and a season-high 17 rebounds (including an unreal 9 offensive boards) in his final collegiate regular season game. Seahawks’ Senior forward Keith Rendleman did everything he good in the final game of his collegiate career with 24 points and 10 rebounds, but once again had little help from his teammates as no other UNCW player reached double digits.  The Dragons will face George Mason on March 9th in the first round of the CAA tournament, a team with whom they split the regular-season series.

Saint Joseph’s completed the clean sweep for City 6 schools yesterday in an 82-56 thrashing of the Fordham Rams.  Carl Jones led the way for the Hawks with 24 points including a 5 for 8 effort from behind the arc.  The entire Hawks’ team had an outstanding offensive night, shooting 50.0% from the field and recording 19 assists against only 8 turnovers.

With two regular season games remaining, the Hawks find themselves right in the middle of a crowded Atlantic 10 conference.  St. Joe’s is only 2 games back of 4th place and a 1st round bye but also only one game ahead of the 13th-place team, who would miss the conference tournament altogether.  With remaining games against Rhode Island and Charlotte, teams behind them in the standings, the Hawks really have a chance to make some noise in the final week.

Today’s Action

12:00 PM: Villanova (18-11, 9-7 Big East) @ Pittsburgh (22-7, 10-6 Big East) – ESPN3

Following a heart-breaking last-minute defeat at Seton Hall, the Wildcats look to bounce back in one of the most difficult places to play in college basketball.  Villanova was handily defeated by the Panthers at the Pavilion in January.  The Wildcats put forth an abysmal offensive performance in that outing, shooting only 31.8% and turning the ball over 17 times.  Pittsburgh rates out as a top-10 team in the nation, with a top-15 offense and top-10 defense ratings. As usual, the Panthers slow the game down, playing at one of the slowest paces in D-1, while working for good shots on offense and harrassing the opposing team on defense.  They shoot the ball incredibly well at 47.3% and do a great job of distributing it around, 10th in the country at 16.6 apg.  In summation, Pittsburgh is an excellent basketball and one built around defense and efficient offense that will do well come tournament time.  Villanova will have to do a much better job taking care of the basketball and converting at the basket to come out on top in this contest.

Sixers Win Battle Against Warriors

Saturday’s game against Golden State turned into a track meet, with Philadelphia crossing the finish line first.

On a night where the Sixers celebrated Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance, it originally looked like Steph Curry might give him a run for his money.  Curry had 13 points in the first quarter, the Sixers threw the ball away left and right committing 6 turnovers, and down 31-20, it looked like Philadelphia was on its way to another disappointing performance.  Then, a funny thing happened as the Sixers came alive, playing with more energy and aggression than they have in weeks.  A big role in this change was Doug Collins coming to the realization that Spencer Hawes was being paid off by the mob to win the game for Golden State (I feel that is the only possibility for his 0-9, 3 turnover, one technical foul performance), and went with Lavoy Allen at the 5 for the majority of the game.  A 15-1 second quarter run got the Sixers back in the game, followed by a 10-2 spurt in the third quarter to give them their first lead of the game at 73-72.

Throughout the game, the Sixers did a terrible job holding onto the ball, with 23 turnovers in total, managing to overcome that difficulty by shooting 12 of 18 from behind the arc.  For fans in love with a track meet, this contest was the ideal viewing experience with very little interior defense, plenty of threes, and fast-paced action.  The Warriors’ roster is better suited for that type of game which showed early on in the game but in the end, Golden State appeared to tire on the end of their 5-game road trip and second game of a back-to-back as Philadelphia finished strong for a 104-97 victory.

A few Sixers had standout performances on the evening.  Evan Turner had his best game of the season, narrowly missing a triple-double with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists.  His mid-range game was working tonight and Turner wasn’t forcing contested shots in traffic, finishing 10-15 from the floor.  He also hit his first three-pointer since January 26th going 2-3 from downtown.  Thad Young finished with a career-high 16 rebounds to go with 14 points and his usual brand of all-over-the-court tenacity.  Finally, Dorell Wright drained 3 of 5 threes on his way to 13 points, 7 rebounds, and the play of the night, blocking Steph Curry from behind on a fast break.  Disregarding that play, Curry had an excellent game with 30 points and 8 assists.  When he wasn’t penetrating the lane for easy points, he was kicking the ball out to Klay Thompson for one of Thompson’s 7 threes, who finished with 29 points.

An exciting win for the Sixers in front of a large crowd at hand for the Chamberlain-bobblehead night.  Philadelphia will look to continue this momentum as it travels to Washington Sunday night.

Daily Cup of City 6 (3/2/13)

City 6 Cup 2

Yesterday’s Action

Another week, another bad loss in Ivy League play for Pennsylvania, as the Quakers couldn’t close down the stretch in a 69-64 defeat.  After falling behind 61-59 with two minutes left, Dartmouth went on a 9-0 run to seal the game.  Two Miles Cartwright turnovers during that run were indicative of the largest problem throughout the contest as the Quakers did a poor job holding on to the rock, committing 18 turnovers to just 12 by Dartmouth.  The lone bright spot for Penn was the continued strong play of Freshman Tony Hicks, who scored a game-high 23 points on 7-14 shooting.  As they approach the end of a lost season, the Quakers can take solace in knowing they have a real player with which to move forward.

Today’s Action

2:00 PM: La Salle (19-7, 9-4 A-10) vs. Duquesne (8-19, 1-12 A-10)

Duquesne may call themselves the Dukes but folks won’t confuse them with the squad from Durham, as Duquesne comes to Tom Gola Arena last place in the Atlantic 10 and 2-12 on the road overall.  Freshman guard Derrick Colter accounts for over one-third of the Dukes’ offense, leading the team at 13.0 points and 5.1 assists per game.  The Dukes do not have any significant scoring threats on the interior which should bode well for a guard-oriented La Salle team.  The Explorers currently sit tied for third in conference play and can’t afford to slip up in against a beatable opponent if it wants to hold on to a top-4 seed and the corresponding first-round bye in the A-10 tournament.  No team can be taken too lightly, even Duquesne, as Temple found out in their one-point loss to the Dukes two weeks ago.

2:00 PM: Temple (20-8, 8-5 A-10) vs. Rhode Island (8-18, 3-10 A-10)

Speaking of Temple, the Owls bring their four-game winning streak into a home match against another lower-tier conference foe, the Rhode Island Rams.  The Rams are a dreadful offensive team, ranking among the bottom tier of D-1 teams in FG% (40.1%) and assists per game (10.8).  As a result, Rhode Island likes to play at a slow pace, to limit the total number of possessions and keep games close.  With Wyatt, Randall, and company, the Owls simply have to much offensive firepower for the Rams to hang around at a faster pace.  If Temple can get off to a hot start and force Rhode Island into playing catch-up and out of their comfort zone, I like the Owls’ chances to cruise to an easy victory.

6:00 PM: Pennsylvania (7-20, 4-6 Ivy) vs. Harvard (17-8, 9-2 Ivy) – NBC Sports Network

Coming off consecutive losses to bottom-dwellers Columbia and Dartmouth, the Quakers will see how the other half lives as they face first-place Harvard.  Penn was easily dispensed of in the teams’ first meeting this season, 73-54, as Harvard’s Kenyatta Smith barely missed a triple-double with 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 10 blocks.  Swingman Wesley Saunders leads the team at 16.7 ppg and the entire team scores efficiently as a whole, as the Crimson are 9th in the country in FG% at 48.8%.  Fresh off a loss to Princeton last night, Harvard holds just a half-game lead in the Ivy League.  With just three games left in the regular season and an NCAA tournament bid on the line, there’s no chance of Harvard not coming ready for this game.  Given the way Pennsylvania has played of late, it’s hard to imagine them coming out on top in this match-up.

7:00 PM: Drexel (12-17, 8-9 CAA) vs. UNC-Wilmington (10-19, 5-12)

Following a too-close-for comfort win against Old Dominion Thursday night, Drexel ends its regular season slate at home against the Seahawks of UNC-Wilmington.  A victory for the Dragons will lock in a 5th seed in the conference tournament and a road match-up against either George Mason, James Madison, or an American patriot yet to be determined.  For UNCW, Senior Keith Rendleman is a monster on both ends, averaging team-highs 16.8 ppg (on 53.5% shooting), 10.5 rpg, 1.8 spg, and 1.5 blocks per game.  This contest will be the Seahawks’ last game of the season as the program is ineligible for postseason play due to low Academic Progress Rates; look for UNCW to come out aggressive and leave it all out on the court in their seniors’ final collegiate game.  However, UNCW doesn’t have much talent to throw at Drexel other than Rendleman and if the Dragons stay focused, they should finish the regular season .500 in conference play.

7:00 PM: Saint Joseph’s (15-11, 6-7 A-10) vs. Fordham (6-22, 2-11 A-10)

Today’s trend of Philadelphia Atlantic 10 teams hosting the dregs of the conference continues as the Hawks take on the Fordham Rams.  The Rams come in having lost 8 straight and 11 of 12.  Fordham excels on the glass, with a top-50 mark nationally at 37.6 rebounds per game (including 13.5 on the offensive end).  However, part of the reason the Rams are able to secure so many rebounds is they miss so many shots, ranking among the nation’s worst at 40.2% shooting, and they play at a pace among the fastest 70 teams in the country, affording more opportunities.  The Rams are led by the inside-outside tandem of Branden Frazier (14.3 ppg and 5.1 apg) and Chris Gaston (14.0 ppg and 7.7 rpg).  Gaston was out injured in these teams’ first meeting, a 66-62 St. Joe’s victory at Fordham.  The Hawks were led in that contest by Carl Jones’ 19 points and a double-double (10 points and 10 rebounds) from Ronald Roberts, Jr.  St. Joseph’s is only one game away in the standings from missing the conference tournament altogether; look for them to take care of business against a Fordham team with nothing to play for but pride.

 

Sixers vs. Warriors Game Preview (3/2/13)

The Sixers look to avoid dropping their eighth in a row.

After Joakim Noah abused them on his way to a career-defining performance, the Sixers return home trying to break a 7-game losing streak against the struggling Golden State Warriors.  Despite still holding the 6th seed in the Western Conference, Golden State has been on a downslide of late, going 3-9 in their last 12 games.  Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote an excellent piece this week on the recent struggles of the Warriors stemming from their return to poor defensive habits, sporting a 108.0 defensive rating over their past 17 games.  At the moment, Andrew Bogut is out indefinitely with back spasms, forcing the Warriors to rely even more heavily on a David Lee-Carl Landry front court.  Carl Landry is undersized for the power forward and the team improves measurably defensively with him on the bench (101.6 defensive rating off the court, 105.5 on).  This line-up also forces David Lee to play center, who by one measure, is the second worst interior defender in the NBA, with opponents shooting 61% near the basket against him.  Fortunately for Golden State, Philadelphia has looked like anything but a squad ready to pick apart a defense over the last few weeks.  If the Sixers are going to have a chance to win this contest, they will need a vintage Thad Young performance to exploit this terrible defense inside.

However, on the other end of the court, the Warriors can score as well as anyone (9th in the NBA with a 103.9 offensive rating on the season), even during these past few weeks.  Steph Curry’s 54-point performance (Including an unconscious 11-13 from behind the arc) at the Garden this week has been all the talk among NBA circles.  His relatively good health this season has been the biggest reason for the Warriors’ turnaround, averaging 22.0 ppg while ranking 2nd in the league behind Kyle Korver with a 45.5 3PT%.  Additionally, despite his atrocious defense, David Lee made his first all-star team this season because he has been incredibly effective on the offensive end with 18.9 ppg on 51.3 FG%.  After facing a Chicago team struggling to score almost as much as themselves, Philadelphia might find the highly-skilled and efficient Warriors’ offense to be a rude awakening.

Finally, with the announcement that Andrew Bynum may have season-ending surgery, fans can finally put any hope of a miraculous return out of their minds.  Honestly, I’m glad the ‘will he, won’t he’ saga with Bynum seems like it can be put to rest.  I’ve given up any hopes on the season for a little while now; at this point, I’ll settle for one victory.

Keys to the Game:

  • As mentioned, the Sixers must receive a big game from Thad Young.  Lee and Landry log the majority of the frontcourt minutes for the Warriors and can be torn apart.  Young has shown flashes of his old self following his return from a hamstring injury but has also been rusty at times.  Philadelphia needs a 20 and 10, high-energy game from Thaddeus if they’re to pull this game out.
  • Limit the open looks from downtown for the Warriors, who lead the league at 39.4 3PT%.  Jrue Holiday needs to be a shadow following Steph Curry through screens around the court.  Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack are also above-average three-points shooters; the other Sixers backcourt members can not lose them on the outside.
  • Get a strong effort from each unit.  Bench players like Wilkins, Pargo, and Wright were the only ones to show any heart against Orlando.  Then against Chicago, the starters played fairly well but the bench was a no-show.  The Warriors will be on the back-end of a back-to-back after playing Boston the night before; run hard throughout and use your depth against their tired legs.  It will take a full team effort against a quality opponent like Golden State.

Prediction:

Golden State’s biggest weakness (frontcourt defense) is not something Philadelphia is built to exploit.  Without a post threat and relying too much on long jumpers, the Sixers cannot muster enough offense to hang with the high-scoring Warriors in dropping their 8th in a row.

Daily Cup of City 6 (3/1/13)

City 6 Cup 2

Yesterday’s Action

In its penultimate regular season game, Drexel started off strong before holding off a late Old Dominion charge and securing an 81-77 victory.  The Dragons let a 15-point lead completely evaporate as the Monarchs came back to tie the game in the second half before a late Drexel run put the game away.  Letting a last-place Old Dominion squad back into the game was a discouraging sign for a Drexel bunch looking to get its act together with the CAA conference tournament just a little over a week away.  Still, unlike its previous couple games, the Dragons were able to execute down the stretch and obtain the win, ugly as it may have been.

Damion Lee was the star of the show, tallying a career-high 34 points on 11-14 shooting, including 7-8 from downtown, while also securing a game-high 10 rebounds.  Old Dominion’s DeShawn Painter had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds in the losing effort.  Drexel currently holds the 6-seed in the conference tournament and can only move down with a loss and a William & Mary win in the teams’ final games of the regular season.

With Temple down 5 to Detroit with 2 minutes left and its NCAA tournament hopes about to take a serious blow, Khalif Wyatt did what great leaders do, going on a 10-0 run himself for a Temple 84-78 victory.  It was an off-shooting night for Wyatt until that moment, as he recorded a team-high 20 points but on only 4-14 shooting from the field; but he was there when his team needed him most, just as he has been throughout the season.  Temple would not have been in position for Wyatt’s heroics without strong play throughout the game from Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (13 points, game-high 12 rebounds), and Jake O’Brien (16 points off the bench on 6-6 shooting).

Detroit’s Ray McCallum looked every bit the NBA prospect he is purported to be, finishing with 21 points (on 8-17 shooting), 7 rebounds, and 6 assists (against only 1 turnover).  In the end though, it was Wyatt and the Owls’ night as they continue to play their best ball of the season entering March.  Temple now sits tied for 5th in the Atlantic 10, one game back of Butler and La Salle for 3rd place and one of the byes awarded to the top 4 seeds in the conference tournament.

Today’s Action

7:00 PM: Pennsylvania (7-19, 4-5 Ivy) vs. Dartmouth (6-18, 2-8 Ivy)

Following a disappointing loss at Columbia Saturday, the Quakers travel home to take on a last-place Dartmouth squad.  The Big Green are known for their success in youth soccer but seem to be struggling with men’s college basketball.  Maybe they’re not bringing the goat to the games?  These two teams actually met less than two weeks ago with Pennsylvania defeating Dartmouth on the road, 67-57.  The Quakers actually trailed by 12 at halftime before storming back in the second half buoyed by outstanding shooting both from the field (56.1% on the game) and the free throw line (19-23, 82.6%).  Gabas Maldunas had an excellent game for Dartmouth, with 19 points and 10 rebounds; the Quakers will need to do a better job containing the Lithunian big man on the inside in this rematch.  By keeping him off the offensive glass and restricting the poor-shooting Dartmouth offense (39.6% FG shooting on the season) to the outside, the Quakers should cruise to an easy season sweep.

Joakim Noah Does His Best Shawn Bradley Impression as Sixers Lose

Joakim Noah took the Sixers to school with a career-high 11 blocks.

First-year all-star Joakim Noah was a man possessed in this game, putting the team on his back and refusing to allow his Bulls to drop a game to the struggling Sixers as Chicago pulled out a 93-82 victory.  Since 1985, there have been five games with a recorded line of 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 blocks: two by Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, one each by rapping genie Shaquille O’Neal and former Sixers legend Shawn Bradley, and now one by Joakim Noah.  The Florida alumnus finished with 23 points, 21 rebounds (including 8 offensive), and 11 blocks, and led both teams with screams into the United Center rafters.  All of his yelling and histrionics may be extremely annoying to a fan of the opposing team, but you have to admire his energy and passion for the game.  If Sixers’ players showed half of his intensity, we as fans would be talking possible playoff matchups.

However, I’ll say this for the Sixers, the effort was there in this one.  Philadelphia did a good job shutting down Luol Deng, who had killed the Sixers in their previous meetings, holding him to 12 points on 5-14 shooting.  Then, after falling behind by as many as 16 in the second half, Philadelphia fought back to make a close game of it before a Chicago run midway through the fourth put the game away.  After the Sixers cut the deficit to four at 75-71, there was a three-minute stretch where Noah tallied 3 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 blocks and the Chicago lead was back to twelve at 83-71.  Ultimately, Noah was too much for the Sixers in their quest to earn a tough road victory.

For Philadelphia, Jrue Holiday got back to his scoring ways with 22 points on 10-19 shooting, though he only dished out 3 assists against 4 turnovers.  Holiday needs to get back to playing a complete floor game, both setting up teammates and converting at the rim, if the Sixers are going to return to the W column.  Hawes also played with energy on the offensive end with 20 points and 15 rebounds (5 offensive).  But again, Hawes was guarding Noah, who put up a stat line that only 3 other players have compiled over the last 28 years, so how well could Spencer have really played? Besides Noah, Carlos Boozer had a double-double for Chicago with 21 points and 12 rebounds, handily winning his match-up with Thad Young and completing the Chicago front court domination.

The loss is the seventh straight for the Sixers who will next take on Golden State at home Saturday night.  The Warriors will be on the back-end of a road back-to-back following their game against the Celtics; hopefully, tired legs will benefit Philadelphia.  After the incredible Steph Curry performance at the Garden Wednesday night, it will be interesting to see what he does the rest of the week.

2013 Kronum Season Preview: Nimble Jacks

The Nimble Jacks enter the 2013 season looking to win its 4th straight championship.

This is part one in an 8-part series leading up to the 2013 Kronum regular season.  We’ll cover each of the seven teams as well as offer playoff predictions.

2011 Results: 9-1 Regular Season, 2-0 Playoffs, League Champion

2011 Leaders:

NJ Stats

 

 

Key Losses: Joe Petrino (to Evergreens), Matt Kump (to Work Horses)

Key Additions: Ryan Tressler (from Throwbacks), Tyler Blood, Jesse Barone, Rich Schafer

As the old saying goes, “Success breeds enemies”.  In regard to the Nimble Jacks, the Yankees of Kronum, if you aren’t one of their die-hard supporters, chances are you openly root against them at every turn.  The loudest cheer of the 2011-12 season was heard throughout the league when the Throwbacks upset the Nimble Jacks in Week 6; that loss ended the Jacks’ 24-game winning streak stretching across three seasons.  Unfortunately for the rest of the Kronum league, the Jacks shook off that misstep and went undefeated the rest of the way in claiming their third consecutive Kronum championship.

Looking back, it’s extremely difficult to point to one thing as the key to the Nimble Jacks’ success over the years.  The Jacks certainly buy into a team concept; they shared the ball better than any other team, leading the league in both assists per game (30.3) and assist % (57.1%), which denotes what percentage of made shots came via an assist.  They also scored in a variety of ways, ranking first in flex shots made and second in dunks per game (3.7), trailing only the above-the-rim Jet Sets.  Combined with enough cross and wedge zone shots to keep defenses honest, the Jacks truly attacked from all angles and made defensive gameplanning a near-impossibility.  After moving defenses around and out of position, the Jacks also shot the ball extremely efficiently, with a 2nd-ranked team shooting percentage (45.8%, just behind the Jet Sets’ 45.9% mark).  The Jacks were particularly deadly in the flex (47.8%) and wedge (51.9%) zones, leading the league in marksmanship from both areas, while having the lowest off-goal shooting percentage in the league (17.9%).

Like most championship teams, the Jacks were no slouch on defense either.  3 of the 10 all-star wedgebacks last season wore the rabbit on their jerseys.  Sean Kennedy and Pete Weiss ranked first and second in saves per game, at 12.9 and 10.7, respectively, while Ben Hutchison would probably perenially lead the league if opposing shooters weren’t so afraid to enter his quadrant.  Additionally, crosser Jay Shegda is widely regarded as a top-three field defender in Kronum.

Going forward, continuity will be key for the Nimble Jacks as they return 11 players from last season’s championship roster, and 12 returning professional league players overall; both marks are tied for most among Kronum league teams.  Of course, the 165-pound elephant in the room is the loss of Rookie-of-the-Year ranger Joe Petrino (editor’s note: While Rookie of the Year honors actually went to Stephen Vandenberg, Petrino is still ROY in my heart. Must have been that anti-Jacks bias).  We’ll discuss what Petrino brings to the table more in detail during our Evergreens preview; suffice it to say, it’s very difficult to replace the 7th leading scorer in the league (22.7 ppg), who also had the 7th best shooting percentage in the league at 51.4% (min. 20 total shot attempts).  That sort of efficient production doesn’t grow on trees (although the Evergreens may try).

Nevertheless, the Jacks will have to replace the nearly 20% of their points that went out the door with Petrino and will look to a variety of sources to do so.  Veteran ranger Ryan Tressler and rookie ranger Rich Schafer will enter the rotation and have the ability to put the ball in the chamber.  It will also mean increased roles within the offense for returning players such as Shaun Stevens and Sean Kennedy.  For all that, two main factors will determine whether the Nimble Jacks can overcome the loss of Petrino and ultimately continue their reign atop the league.

First, can Dan Geiger assume the Petrino-role within the offense?  Geiger’s rookie season got off to an inauspicious start with a 5-game suspension for his role in a physical altercation during the preseason.  The layoff hurt as he struggled to carve a place in the rotation and a role in a Jacks’ offense that was then firing on all cylinders.  Nonetheless, Geiger picked his moments, showing a strong arm and coming up with some big shots during the team’s playoff run.  Since then, the offseason has been a revelation in terms of Geiger’s progression within the game.  He has become an automatic weapon from the flex zone in preseason play; one sorely needed for a Jacks’ team that has struggled at times during the offseason.  If Geiger can carry his strong level of play into regular season and put together an elite-scorer profile, it will answer one huge question mark for the Nimble Jacks.

The other big question entering the season is whether Jared O’Donnell will fulfill his enormous potential.  O’Donnell combines a level of athleticism, creativity, and skill that only Kevin Clark and a couple others in Kronum possess.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  O’Donnell was already 4th in the league in scoring per game (23.6), the most efficient shooter in the league at 62.1% (min. 4.0 shot per game) and 12th in the league in assists per game (4.1).  What more could the man do?  However, shockingly, O’Donnell was also the league’s most underutilized player.  O’Donnell had the largest gap in Kronum between the percentage of his team’s points and his usage rate, or percentage of his team’s shots.

Utilization

As much as he did for the team already, he was still scoring more efficiently than anyone else in the league, so have him do more.  Part of this sub-utilization falls on the team’s gameplan and need to get the ball in his hands more often and part falls on O’Donnell’s tendency to go through games a little too passively at times.  But if the Nimble Jacks figure out how to best utilize their most dangerous weapon, the rest of the Kronum league better watch out.

With all that in mind, it will be up to captain Scott Kennedy to fit the pieces together both from a managerial standpoint and out on the field where he acts as the floor general for the Jacks offense (2nd in the league at 6.7 assists per game).  It may be a difficult task, but he has done it before and I wouldn’t bet against Scotty Kronum.

Regular Season Prediction: 8-2 (1st place)

The loss of Petrino and the growing pains associated with integrating some new blood (both metaphorically and literally with Tyler) will cause a couple hiccups along the road.  In spite of those obstacles, the Jacks ultimately have too much talent and experience to give up their spot atop the standings quite yet.

 

Sixers @ Bulls Game Preview (2/28/13)

The Sixers need to take the bull by the horns and play with some heart.

Normally, this contest would be one where I would say Philadelphia could steal a game and earn a win.  The Bulls are still without Derrick Rose; the Sixers proved in the first round of last year’s playoffs that they’re capable of taking down a Rose-less Chicago squad, especially one who’s gone 3-7 in its last 10 games.  Additionally, Taj Gibson is out for two weeks with a sprained left MCL, further depleting a front court hurt by the departure of Omer Asik to free agency.  Unfortunately for Philadelphia fans, the Sixers came into the Orlando game Tuesday with every possible chance to earn a win and decided to defecate all over those chances with an abysmal 48 minutes of play, so any level of trust has evaporated.

Chicago won both of the teams’ earlier meetings this season.  Luol Deng has given Philadelphia all it can handle in those match-ups, recording 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists in the first game and 19 points and 12 rebounds in the second contest.  The departure of Andre Iguodala from the Sixers has been evident in this area as he generally shut down Deng in the past and Evan Turner has not proven up to the task.  Carlos Boozer has also performed very well on the season.  Once only discussed for his amnesty possibilities, Boozer actually has the highest PER of Chicago’s starters at 17.44, having accrued averages of 15.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.  He has a refined mid-range and post game so Thad Young will need to be up to the task on the defensive end.

Keys to the game:

  • Jrue Holiday has to return to all-star form.  He’ll likely be guarded by Kirk Hinrich or Nate Robinson for the majority of the game; lock-down defenders they are not.  Be aggressive and go after them early and often.
  • Keep Chicago off the offensive glass.  The Bulls’ offensive rebounding rate ranks third in the league at 30.4%.  Joakim Noah is third in the NBA at 3.9 offensive rebounds per game while Boozer and Deng both also grab more than two offensive rpg.  Limiting second chance opportunities will be key for Hawes, Young, and Turner.

Prediction:

Every fiber of my being wants to say that the Sixers pull this game out.  If the Orlando game and subsequent Doug Collins epic press conference didn’t serve as a wake-up call, nothing will.  However, based on recent play I just can’t predict Philadelphia comes out on top.  Chicago corrals too many o-boards, the Sixers’ offense continues to struggle, and the Bulls win a close one.