Two winless teams will enter, only one will emerge fully scathed. The Sixers have the rare opportunity of handing two subpar teams a win in their home opener, in consecutive games. Let's take a closer look at this Sixers/Wizards matchup which may feature the glorious return of Gilbert Arenas to the Wizards lineup.
No matter what Evan Turner and Doug Collins say, I think the Evan Turner vs. John Wall storyline will be a factor in this game, and that's not a bad thing.
To me, Turner seems like a guy who rises to the occasion (if you're an optimist), or maybe needs a little extra juice to really kick it into gear (if you're a pessimist). First NBA game against LeBron and Wade: huge game. Half-full crowd against Atlanta: not so much. Beyond the added motivation, this game promises to give Turner some seriously favorable matchups to take advantage of.
If Arenas is back and Flip Saunders goes with the three-guard lineup he used in the preseason, we're talking about a couple of huge mismatches among the starting lineups on the perimeter. I'm assuming Hinrich would wind up taking Iguodala, leaving Arenas on Nocioni. Both of those guys need to immediately go to the blocks and punish their men. When Turner comes in (hopefully for Nocioni), he'll have a size advantage over whoever's guarding him. Wall guarding Lou should be fun to watch. The rook has equal or better quickness, which Lou doesn't face too often, but Lou is playing like a vet recently, using that quickness to get defenders in poor position and put fouls on them. Jeff Teague was helpless and he's got a year in the league already.
The Jrue vs. Wall matchup worries me. Wall is a freak athlete, meaning Jrue is really going to have to be on his game defensively to limit penetration. On the offensive end, Jrue again needs to do two things: (1) Avoid the lazy passes on the perimeter. With a guy like Wall out there, they're going to wind up going the other way. (2) Relax. Jrue is at his best when he's settled, under control, and simply letting the game come to him. When he's pressing - for whatever reason - his shot gets stiff, he's indecisive with the dribble, loose with passes. We saw this play out last season when Jordan was jerking his minutes around. We saw it this preseason when he had "top five" pasted in front of his name. Each time, he got his feet wet, had some kind of breakthrough game where he realized the game can be really easy for him, then he was golden. He's going to have that game, or quarter, or play sometime soon. Let's hope it's tonight.
If you want a key to the game, you're in luck because I've got two:
- Andre Iguodala - Here's the list of guys who could possibly be guarding Iguodala: Kirk Hinrich, Gilbert Arenas, Nick Young, Cartier Martin and Al Thornton. There isn't a single name on that list who should even be able to slow Iguodala down. If the Sixers are going to get their first win, they're going to need Iguodala to offset the damage done by...
- Their Bigs - Roy Hibbert and Al Horford at the Sixers alive on the inside over the past two games. Only their own consciences and their team's desire to spread the ball around stopped then from scoring 50 points each. The Wizards have a couple of bigs who can really hurt you, and one of them has no compunction about taking a shot every time he gets his hands on the ball. If Blatche is hot early, expect him to have a huge night and get about 20 shots up against the Sixers horrendous interior defense. He's got a quickness advantage over every Sixers big, and a size advantage over Thad. JaVale McGee isn't exactly an offensive threat, but he's a legit center with an enormous wingspan who will punish the Sixers on the offensive glass (not to mention he's going to be guarding Brand and EB is going to have a hard time getting shots over him). I expect the Sixers to lose the battle up front in a big way.
One more thing to keep an eye on. Against Indiana, when the game was out of hand, Collins went to Jrue, Turner and Iguodala on the floor together. He has to realize that group needs minutes to sort things out. I'm setting the over/under at 12 minutes for that group, and I think tonight might be the night they start to click. Washington's defense is a perfect opportunity.
Game thread will be up at 5:30. Thoughts in the comments, as usual.