Tonight’s game features a clash of Atlantic Division foes: One predictably floundering without one of its star players, and the other unpredictably running the table and leading the division by 4.5 games.
The 12-5 Sixers’ list of statistical accomplishments conjures laundry. They’re 1st in the NBA in defense efficiency, and 2nd in offensive efficiency. Their simple rating of 9.87 leads the league and over a full season would rank as the highest since the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls. They’re dominating their opponents to the tune of an 11.9 point margin, and won six games by 20 points or more. The strangest part: this Sixers team is, for all intents and purpose, the same team as last year’s 41-41 squad.
The Sixers are without center Spencer Hawes and rookie Nikola Vucevic, while Brook Lopez, Damion James, and MarShon Brooks sit for the Nets. James underwent season-ending surgery yesterday.
Joining Sandy and Chris to preview tonight’s game is Carey Smith of Philadunkia, the TrueHoop Network affiliate to the Philadelphia 76ers.
1. Is this Sixers team for real?
- Sandy Dover: The Sixers are very, very real. I think it has a lot to do with Doug Collins and Elton Brand’s relationship. Both have empowered each other to be leaders of the team, and as Sixers beat writer Michael Tillery has said, Collins treats his young players in a way that’s similar to the way a father treats his son. I think it would be great if the Nets had a coach and a stable of players like that, but Philadelphia’s situation is unique.
- Chris Hooker: Yes. With the exception of the Heat game the other night, all of the 76ers losses have been close, well fought games. This team is the kind of team everyone predicted would do well in the shortened season–lots and lots of depth. These guys don’t get tired on back to backs and Doug Collins has based them in strong, rested rotations. Are they as good as Miami or Chicago? No. But they are in the top 4 of the East and are likely there to stay.
- Carey Smith, Philadunkia: That depends on what your definition of “real” is in this crazy NBA season. If your definition of “real” is that the Sixers hot start will help them win 40 games, have a chance at winning the Atlantic Division, make the playoffs and win a first round series, then the answer is a resounding “Yes, the Sixers are for real.” If, however, your definition of “real” is that the Sixers hot start will somehow produce a 50 win season and that they will challenge Miami, Orlando and Chicago as the top dog in the East, then the answer is “No, the Sixers are not for real.” This is a very good basketball squad that plays tremendous defense, operates as a team on the offensive end, appears to have great locker room chemistry and has a tremendous coach. After the opening 5-game road trip they also have had a favorable schedule so far in 2011-12. But to reach that championship caliber, they’ll need to plug some glaring holes. For real.
2. Key to swinging the game?
- Sandy Dover: For the Nets, ball movement on offense and strong team defense. The Nets’ offense today is Deron Williams coming down to the top of the key, passing it, getting the ball back at the wing, while the other guys stand around or don’t fight to open up. It frustrates. Ball movement is key. The Sixers present some challenges to the Nets when New Jersey is defending, because Philly is so active and their players play with gusto and exuberance. Nets defense has to be honest and strong, from the inside-out, or New Jersey is certain to lose.
- Chris Hooker: Same key for every Nets game this season: Deron Williams. If good D-Will shows, the Nets can keep it close. If he is hitting his shots and finding open teammates, he is the best player on the floor. If he is turning the ball over six times, then he is killing the Nets offense. Plain and simple.
- Carey Smith: The key to this game is the PG matchup, but not for the reasons some might think. While Jrue Holiday is a tremendous defender, I don’t think he will be able to “stop” D-Will. The key for Jrue is to bury his ego, not worry about Williams and how he stuffs the stat sheet tonight and avoid the mano-y-mano thing. This year when he goes up against the elite PG’s in the League Jrue appears to get caught up trying to prove he belongs in that group and forces things all night. That’s a recipe for disaster for the Sixers and if this game plays out that way, it could actually cost the 7-6 the game tonight. If Jrue simply gives his usual defensive effort, gets everyone involved on offense and scores when the opportunity presents itself, he’ll have a nice game and the Sixers will win this one.
3. And the winner is…
- Sandy Dover: Philadelphia. Because of the presence of a strong big in Brand, and Philadelphia is longer on the perimeter and more active on both sides of the ball. For New Jersey, it’s virtually Deron and MarShon Brooks who are the most active players on either side of the ball, and it’s hard to have faith in that for a winning prediction.
- Chris Hooker:Sixers. Nets are coming off a tough Bulls game and their second best player, MarShon Brooks, has a sore achilles. The offense is dead without him. I suppose if D-Will shows up and does all he can do, the Nets can keep it close. But there is only so much a point guard can do, especially when his wingman is playing hurt.
- Carey Smith: I know that the Nets gave the Sixers fits last year (Even though we went 4-0 vs. NJN), but I think the Sixers win this one – by a lot. Even if Holiday looses his mind and puts up 20+ shots and has 8 TOs, I still think the under-manned Nets will have a hard time winning this game. My hope is that the Sixers jump on the Nets early (Like they did in building a 30 point 1st half lead vs. WAS the other night), kill any hope the Nets have in this game, and then Collins can rest some of the key guys.