After being justifiably showered with boos last night in a half-empty Wachovia Center, maybe getting away for a game is just what the doctor ordered for this lost Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers team. Maybe this trip to Chicago, as the decided underdog against a team that seems to be lost as well will be the wake-up call we've all been hoping for. Preview after the jump.
The Bulls are playing disturbingly bad offensive basketball, and have been all season long. They're a team of jump shooters whose shots simply aren't falling. John Salmons, coming off a career year, is shooting 30.6% from the floor, 26.2% from three, and he's attempting over 5 threes a game. Kirk Hinrich is even worse from distance at 6/27 (22%). Derrick Rose hasn't hit a three yet this season.
Their only reliable offense has Luol Deng's mid-range game, which seems to be back to pre-injury levels. The Bulls have no interior offense outside of Joakim Noah picking up garbage off the offensive glass. Put it this way, the Sixers look like the Magic compared to the Bulls as far as offensive statistics are concerned.
One concept the Bulls do seem to have grasped, however, is that defense is an important aspect of playing basketball in the NBA. They realize their offense isn't clicking, so they've dramatically slowed to the pace of games and they've been stifling teams on the defense end. The net result is a 4-4 record, and a pretty interesting matchup of differing coaching styles.
So who will win out, the jump-shooting team that can't hit a jumper, or the team that can't spell defense? Your guess is as good as mine, but let's take a look at a couple matchups that could help decide this one.
Deng vs. Thad - Deng is the only offensive weapon that's been even mildly productive so far this season. If Thad loses track of him, it won't be threes that he's burying (he's only attempted 4 on the season), but long twos. Still, those will add up. Thad has a quickness advantage on the offensive end, and he's definitely been more determined to go to the hoop over the past two games. If the Sixers can get a wash from these two players, maybe 20 points each way, I think they'll be in good position to win the game.
Brand vs. Taj Gibson - A rookie on Elton Brand. This should be the mismatch the Sixers expose, but I doubt they will. Brand played with a mean streak until he was benched for good in the third quarter last night. He needs to come out playing exactly like he was for that stretch last night and punish the rook. On defense, Gibson is not a four who's going to spread the floor. He does his work in and around the paint, which is an added bonus for Brand. The Sixers must win this matchup.
AI9 vs. Salmons - I'm not sure if this will be the matchup. Last night, in a pitiful effort to stop the bleeding, Iguodala had to switch onto Eric Maynor to stop the dribble penetration that was killing the Sixers defense. Lou Williams couldn't even come close to handling Eric Maynor's dribble penetration. Jordan is stubborn, so I expect it will take some time before Iguodala is shifted over onto Rose, but Salmons will probably cover Iguodala throughout the game. This isn't as big of a mismatch as most SGs trying to guard Andre, but it's still a mismatch, and one the Sixers need to win if they have any shot.
Lou vs. Rose - The only thing I can say about this mismatch when the Bulls have the ball is that Lou has no prayer. Absolutely none. Even if Rose is a bit hobbled, he's going to have his way with Lou. Like I said above, the Sixers only chance of stopping Rose is to put Iguodala on him, which will probably lead to defensive breakdowns elsewhere, but at least the shot clock will wind down before the open shot happens.
Speights vs. Brad Miller - This could be the matchup that defines the game. Miller is precisely the type of big who gives the Sixers fits. Not only can he step out on the floor, that's his entire game. He works from the top of the key, is perfectly capable of hitting that jumper and/or finding his teammates for open looks. Defensively, Speights is going to have stay in his jock to take the open jumpers away and make his backdoor passes harder to throw. He's going to have to show and recover quickly when the Bulls put Miller in multiple P&R's (which they will), and most of all, Speights needs to take advantage of Miller's lack of quickness when the Sixers have the ball.
In today's inspiring confidence section, here's a tweet from Lou Williams:
People tryna (sic) give me advise (sic) about something they have never experienced or ever done at a high level that i do everyday ..#weoffthat
Last night Lou complained that people were being mean to him on Twitter. This particular post leaves me a little lost. If people are trying to give him advice about playing defense, then this makes no sense because defense is absolutely not something he has ever experienced, nor done at a high level every day. Maybe people are trying to give him advice about jumping in the air to make a pass. He definitely does that every day. Or maybe the advice was about taking bad threes, he's got experience there too.
A win today and the Sixers are back at .500. If they play well and win, then maybe things start to look up, maybe they get over whatever imaginary hump they've been up against all year. A loss...well. I'm not sure how much lower I can get as a fan, but I'm pretty sure the team can go lower. Right now, Elton Brand is probably on the verge of checking out. Andre Iguodala is literally killing himself to make up for the team's deficiencies (check out his defensive rebounding numbers, an SG shouldn't NEED to contribute that much on the defensive glass). This team is like a powdered keg right now, something has to give.
Key to the Game: Rose's damage on Lou.
If ______________ the Sixers will win: The Sixers grab 75% of their defensive rebounds.
This is your game thread. I'll be here throughout, come share my pain.
(Thanks to Rob for the photo from last night's game)