The Sixers will take on the Hornets tonight, hoping to even up their record at 4-4 on the epic Ice Capades journey. New Orleans currently holds a 20-14 record (11-1 to start the season, 9-13 since). When I look at their roster, though, it becomes clear just how much of a miracle worker Chris Paul is for them.
Honestly, I mean, look at their roster. David West is an efficient, gunning big who prefers to shoot long twos. Okafor is a pretty decent defensive big with absolutely no offensive role. They make up a decent front court and the team really has no talent anywhere else on their entire roster, with the possible exception of Marcus Thornton, who has lost most of his minutes to Willie Green. Although Thornton's numbers have been as dreadful as Willie's so far this season.
Trevor Ariza has played 1,143 minutes and has -0.8 offensive win shares. His true shooting % of .468 is fourth-worst in the league among players who get 30+ minutes/game. Jason Smith is a fixture in their rotation with a TS% of .474. The list doesn't end there. They have zero depth, at any position, and their front line guys are pretty close to pitiful as well. Take Chris Paul off this team and you're going to see a repeat of what's happening to the Cavs minus LeBron this season.
But with Chris Paul running the show, they're a playoff team. Go figure.
Anyway, beating the Hornets doesn't really involve shutting anything specific down on the defensive end. Paul is going to score his points, there's no stopping that. If David West's jumper is really on, that pick and pop game is probably going to hurt you, but Okafor isn't going to take enough shots to really make a difference and every other player on their roster, almost to a man, is a negative on the offensive end. If you can get any of those guys to shoot anything but a layup (or a three for Belinelli), you've done your job on the defensive end. The Hornets are 23rd in the league in OFR, just make sure West and Paul don't combine for 60+ points and you're probably going to be OK.
When the Sixers have the ball, though, they're going to need to up their game a little bit. Brand is probably going to have to contend with Okafor, which is not a favorable matchup. Hawes can't take advantage of anyone, so forget about his matchup with West. Belinelli is a poor defender, but Meeks isn't going to take advantage of that. Ariza is a good defender who will probably be wasted on Nocioni and then give a ton of problems to Turner. Paul has active hands and plays the passing lanes extremely well, but I'm not crazy about him defensively overall. Jrue needs to take care of the ball, drive on Paul and also try to post him up if the opportunity presents itself.
Among the starters, Jrue is the only matchup I like, but once the bench gets involved, there are things the Sixers can exploit. When Thad comes into the game (assuming Brand slides to the five), he'll have a huge quickness advantage over West. Lou should be able to abuse anyone they put on him when he comes in. I also really like the matchups if the Sixers decide to go with a big lineup. Put Jrue at the point, Turner at the two, Thad at the three, Brand at the four and Hawes or Battie at the five and Turner will have a huge advantage over whoever's defending him and Thad has a huge strength advantage on Ariza.
For me, the key is going to be Doug Collins' ability to use his relative depth to create mismatches, then attack those mismatches. That, and keeping New Orleans off the offensive glass.
Prediction: PHI 89, NOH 82
The tip is at 8pm. Game thread will be up at 6:30.