They've been beating the bad teams, they've been taking care of their home floor, if the Sixers are going to make some noise in the playoff race, the next step is to start beating the teams ahead of them in the standings. Especially the team directly ahead of them, the New York Knicks, who come the WFC tonight with a three-game edge on the Sixers in their back pocket.
Here's the game capsule from the first game against the Knicks, a win at the Garden.
When you've scratched and clawed your way back from a 3-13 start to get a firm handle on the #7 seed, it's time to start looking up. The Knicks were the toast of the town earlier in the season when they took advantage of a series of games against lesser teams to push their record above .500, but they've since come crashing back to mediocrity. If you look at the season as a whole, the Sixers have played better basketball than New York, but it's the record that matters. Three games separate these teams in the standings, that number could shrink to one, stay at three or grow to five by the time the Packers and Steelers take the field for the Super Bowl on Sunday night.
Two bits of really good news for the Sixers. (1) Doug Collins had two days off two develop a game plan for this matchup, and with time, Collins has been masterful. (2) The Sixers really play well against the D'Antoni style. Wilson Chandler is listed as questionable for tonight's game. His ability to play is a pretty big deal. Chandler's been good for NY this season, but more importantly, D'Antoni plays with really tight rotations, taking out any of his starters makes him dip into a very shallow bench for heavy minutes. If Chandler's out, consider that a third big advantage heading in.
I'm expecting to see a couple things tonight: One good, one bad. On the good side, D'Antoni will go small, and going small against the Sixers is a huge mistake. I honestly don't think there's a team in the league that can put a fast enough lineup out there to contend with Brand, Thad, Iguodala, Williams (or Turner/Meeks) and Jrue. If you take away the mismatch of Thad guarding a legit big on the defensive end, that unit will absolutely run right over you. On the bad side, I expect to see a ton of zone defense from New York. D'Antoni still doesn't care in the least about defense, so he'll probably take the lazy way out and throw a zone at the Sixers, based on the relative success teams have had playing it against them over the past couple games. This has the added bonus of him not having to spend any time worrying about things like matchups on the defensive end, which falls somewhere below mustache grooming on his list of priorities. I doubt he'll be scared out of the zone if the Sixers start making shots, since his man-to-man defense is poor anyway.
Collins and the Sixers won't be surprised by the zone, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he put in place to take advantage of it over the past couple days.
In terms of matchups, I always love seeing Jrue vs. Toney Douglas. Brand vs. Amare could be ugly on the defensive end, but Amare has been a turnover machine this season, so expect to see the perimeter guys helping down with a quick strip attempt on Amare, hopefully that helps to slow him down. Gallinari, Fields and Bill Walker are the only guys they have who are above average from three, and Gallo is really the only one of those three that I consider an offensive weapon. Don't lose him on the perimeter, keep a hand in his face and don't bite on the ball fakes. Gallo is great at getting his man in the air, taking a dribble to the side and hitting the three. Keep your feet under you.
Prediction: PHI 114, NYK 100
The tip is at 7pm, game thread will land 90 minutes prior.