Dwight Howard does not want to come to Philadelphia...yet. Howard may be seeking the limelight, or a cushier existence in terms of who he plays with, or lucrative endorsement deals, or national exposure beyond what Orlando provides, or maybe even a ring. Whatever his motivations may be, until he signs a contract elsewhere, the Sixers are in the game. The only thing the Sixers can do to win Howard's favor is to sell themselves as an organization. Hammering the Magic on the floor tonight would be a good first step.
The Sixers' job will be a little harder tonight because Jameer Nelson will not be playing. That's not a typo. Nelson has probably been the worst point guard in the league this season (.486 TS%, 22.5% turnover rate). Chris Duhon is nothing special, but at least he won't submarine the team with terrible shots and turnovers.
The key to beating the Magic now is basically what it has been for years. With or without Hawes/Vucevic, the Sixers won't be able to stop Howard. You just take for granted he's going to wind up with 25 points and 20 boards. The best you can hope to do with Howard is making earn a bunch of his points from the line and hopefully use doubles judiciously to force turnovers. Howard is going to eat, the key is to making the Magic three-point shooters leave hungry. This is easier said than done. Hedo, Redick and Ryan Anderson are all shooting better than 40% from three on a ton of attempts. Anderson, especially, is problematic. The lame-duck PF is shooting 42.3% from three on 7.2 attempts per game. If you cheat off him, he will kill you. The Sixers almost need to concede Dwight's points on the inside, and use all their fouls to make him earn his points at the line, because any defensive scheme that depends on doubling regularly will result in open looks and the Magic have too many shooters on the floor to account for everyone by rotating.
Against the starters, I'm not sure how the Sixers will check Anderson. Brand can't stick with him on the perimeter, neither can any of the Sixer centers. I'd say the best course of attack is to go at him on the defensive end, try to put a couple of quick fouls on him, because when Glen Davis is on the floor, they lose their advantage in a big way. Davis has played like Jameer Nelson so far this year, only worse, and he's still getting over 22 minutes/game. Even if the Sixers have problems with Orlando's starting five, I expect the Lou, Thad and Turner to completely demolish their second unit.
One wrinkle to keep an eye on. Collins tries to use Thad against the opposing team's biggest pick-and-roll threat in the front court, meaning if it's Howard and Anderson for Orlando vs. Brand and Thad for the Sixers, history tells us Thad will be on Howard. That's probably not going to work out (he used this strategy against the Knicks w/ Amare/Harrellson).
On the offensive end, the Magic have a bunch of weak defenders Howard winds up covering for in a big way. Hedo and Anderson are both liabilities and should be attacked. Redick is a smart defender off the bench, but Lou shouldn't have trouble getting by him off the dribble. It's unfortunate the Sixers don't have a big capable of putting fouls on Howard. The best way for the Sixers to attack him is to use their drive to set guys up instead of trying to shoot over him. Get into the lane, draw Howards and dish the ball to his man in the hopes he can find a way to finish on the inside.
The Magic are playing the second night of a back-to-back, here's a look at their key players' minutes yesterday against Indy:
- Howard: 39 minutes
- Duhon: 33 minutes
- Hedo: 33 minutes
- Anderson: 28 minutes
I didn't catch their game, but from the box score it looks like Larry Hughes played the point when Duhon was on the bench. Otis Smith continues to bolster Orlando's case for keeping Dwight.
The tip is at 7pm. Game thread will land around 5.