With Dwight Howard serving a one-game suspension tonight, you'd think both the Magic and the Sixers would have to make adjustments to their game plans. After the jump we'll take a look at what the Polish Hammer means to the overall team keys.
After giving it some serious thought, I actually don't think either team will be forced to stray too far from what they've been trying to do all series long, with one major exception.
If you've watched the series closely, or paid attention to Orlando's season, you probably realize that Stan Van Gundy is reluctant, at best, to feature Howard on the offensive end. He begrudgingly calls a few plays for Howard, per quarter, then lets him get his points off the offensive glass. SVG has tailored his entire offense around the three pointer. Well, tonight he doesn't have to worry about going to Howard at all. Should be a big burden off his shoulders. I fully expect Orlando to heave about 30 threes in this game. When SVG wants to go to the post, he'll try to get Rashard Lewis down there with Thad on him.
For the Sixers, on defense, their game plan has basically been to treat Howard like he's an average offensive center. Use Dalembert or Ratliff on him one-on-one, help every once in a while, but only in sneaky ways designed to have a dramatic impact on his ability to dump the ball out of the double. What changes about that plan now that Gortat is in there? Very little, if you ask me. There should be even less doubling. The biggest shift will probably come from having Sammy help off of Gortat. He should be more free to roam the lane and protect the rim. Personally, I'd like to see him give a hard double on Lewis when he catches the ball in the post, of course, this is going to require either a very aggressive double early, or a late close to challenge Lewis' shot. Otherwise, Gortat will be wide-open under the hoop for a dunk. If we get into a situation where a small has to help down to cover up Gortat, open threes will result, and preventing open threes needs to remain the focus of the defense.
The biggest change is going to come when the Sixers have the ball. Gortat is a very good rebounder. He blocks shots at a decent rate as well. His per-minute rates are outstanding, but he isn't the defensive player of the year and he also isn't accustomed to playing heavy minutes. He played 20+ minutes only 11 times this season. He tends to foul, and foul a ton. He averages 5 PF per 36 minutes. This is not a game for the Sixers to settle for jumpers.
Every single offensive possession should be about getting into the paint. Gortat may be a capable defensive center, but he is not the defender Dwight Howard is, and more importantly, he is not the name Dwight Howard is. Howard gets away with murder sometimes, Gortat will not. We already know Orlando's perimeter players cannot keep the Sixers out of the lane, now we need to see the Andres, Thad and Lou getting into the lane, drawing contact and finishing. Take the ball right at Gortat, get him in foul trouble and this team stands no chance. Their depth behind Gortat is miserable, at best.
When you aren't simply driving the lane, I'd like to see how SVG decides to handle the high screen and roll with Gortat. Last game, Iguodala did a very good job in these situations with Howard doubling off the screen, I'd like to see how Gortat applies the double, and recovers.
Obviously, if you have the choice of playing against Orlando with Superman in the middle, vs. the Polish Hammer, you're always going to take the latter, but Gortat is not a stiff. He has flaws, and you can exploit those flaws, but he has strengths as well. The Sixers need to keep him off the offensive glass, they need to get a body on him, they need to force him to make plays, they need to attack, frankly the way they should've been attacking Howard all series long. Take the ball right at the shot blocker, get into his body, and try to finish.