Take a look back over the past couple seasons (no really, I'll wait). The Atlanta Hawks, who will play host to the Sixers tonight, aren't dissimilar to Philly. They're kind of built the same way, with versatile athletic guys. They even have their old, slower than a snail point guard in Mike Bibby. This time last season, the Sixers were actually trying to chase Atlanta down for the #4 seed in the East. My how things change. Preview, matchups, game thread after the jump.
This summer, while the Sixers were letting Andre Miller walk, hiring a buffoon to coach their team and filling out their roster with Primoz Brezec and Royal Ivey, Atlanta brought Mike Bibby back (probably for too much money and too many years), drafted what they hope will be the PG of their future (Jeff Teague), traded for Jamal Crawford (a rich man's Lou Williams, possibly) and signed Joe Smith to bring a veteran presence to their front line. They also brought back Pachulia, an important move for them, I think, and they extended Marvin Williams, which I think they'll wind up regretting.
Granted, Atlanta was in better financial shape than the Sixers heading into the playoffs, and they also advanced to the second round of the playoffs last season, but rewind the clock a mere 12 months and these teams are on the same level. In fact, the Sixers actually handled the Hawks pretty easily in their late-season matchups last season and there's a very real chance they would've finished with the #4 seed had Thad Young not twisted his ankle.
Well, in that year, the Sixers have become essentially the worst-case scenario. A roster of talented players who has played to their floor rather than their ceiling, while the Hawks have made some minor changes and are playing at or near their ceiling. They currently sit in the #3 spot in the Eastern Conference, and if Boston continues to make a mockery of regular season basketball, that's probably where they'll finish.
Since we've talked in the comments about contending for championships and being mired in the too good to get better, too bad to win it all debate, I guess I have to ask. Would you guys rather have followed a course like Atlanta did? Instead of letting Bibby walk and maybe taking a step back this season, they reloaded and improved. Or better yet, when this season is over they're going to have to make a decision on Joe Johnson, do you think they should overpay to bring him back and keep this core together?
There's really no point to this line of questioning. If I was a Hawks fan, I'd be excited to watch this team play. I'd be excited by the fact that they've gotten better each of the past three seasons, and their franchise seems committed to winning. I can actually relate, because up until this past summer, I felt the same way about the Sixers.
Anyway, we have a game to play tonight, here's a quick look at the matchups:
Bibby vs. Lou Williams - Makes sense to put Lou on Bibby, who really couldn't get by me on the dribble these days. Bibby is shooting less than 40% from the field and below league average from three. Lou really should win this matchup, but we'll see what happens.
Jrue vs. Joe Johnson - Yet another tough matchup for the kid. Johnson won't hesitate to work on the blocks, so Jrue's strength and technique will be tested. Johnson's reputation says he's a star much more than his stats do, at least for the past two seasons. He's essentially an average three-point shooter these days, but he does contribute in all areas.
Iguodala vs. Marvin Williams - Marvin is a mid-range shooter who has extended his range to three over the past two seasons, but still shoots it at a below-average clip. Iguodala has a clear advantage here.
Josh Smith vs. Thad Young - Interesting matchup. You get the feeling that if Thad played with the energy Smith has, he'd be on the verge of stardom, while if Smith had some of the refined moves Thad has, he'd already be there. I give the edge to Smith's aggression, defensive mind set and completely abandoning the three pointer (0 for 6 on the season!)
Horford vs. Dalembert - Horford is a very good technical defender. Meaning he makes the correct play in most situations. His athleticism isn't great, and he's undersized to be playing the five, but he makes up for it with execution. Kind of the opposite of Dalembert, who uses his size and tremendous athleticism to overcome technical flaws in his defensive game. Offensively, Horford kills Sammy.
Bench - Crawford vs. Willie? Joe Smith vs. Speights? Yeah, I don't think our bench has much of a chance.
Continuity - Atlanta has used a grand total of two different starting lineups this season. The lineup we're going to see tonight has started 58 of 59 games. The Sixers have no idea what their lineup is going to look like, what their bench is going to look like or who will get what minutes. We're 60 games in and there is absolutely no stability to this team. Huge advantage to ATL.
Key to The Game: Don't let Crawford go bonkers when he comes in. He's probably going to wind up with Lou guarding him, limit the damage.
If _______________ the Sixers will win: Thad grabs 6 or more defensive rebounds.
This is your game thread, I'll be here throughout. Join me if you have no heart, you're gutless and your body language brings down your teammates.