Fresh off a successful stretch of seven games against teams with a combined winning percentage of .683 the Sixers have no rest as they head on the road to face the Cleveland Cavaliers. It's time to put last night's tough loss behind them and put a couple of W's on the board.
Make no mistake, finishing that stretch of games above .500 is impressive. It stings that they were a couple made free throws or even one missed prayer of shot (The Clips' last two made shots in that game were heavily contested, tough looks) away from being 5-2, but don't lose perspective. In years past, they don't come out of that stretch of games above .500 and there are very few teams in the league today who would've emerged with their head above water.
Tonight, they'll face a team that was everyone's darling when they were surprisingly at the bottom of the playoff ladder in the Eastern Conference, led by #1 pick Kyrie Irving's inspired play. The team fell on hard times prior to Irving's injury, though, and they'll be without him again tonight, though it's unclear whether his absence is as huge of an advantage as you'd think.
In the two games Irving has missed, Ramon Sessions has scored a combined 36 points and handed out 29 assists. The Cavs beat the Clippers and lost to the Bucks by 1 point, in overtime. Sessions is more than a capable PG when he gets minutes, always has been. Even if he fills Irving's shows perfectly, though, the Cavs still are not a good team. They're 20th in offensive efficiency, 22nd on the defensive side. They're a "rebuilding" team that leans on veterans to keep their numbers near 33rd percentile of the league, instead of at the very bottom.
It's important for the Sixers to get back to punishing the bad teams in the league. There's no shame in losing back-to-back games to the Spurs and the Clippers. The Sixers won't be the only team to drop games to quality opponents. The thing that's going to define whether they're a legit top seed in the East is how they respond to those losses.
The Sixers need to avoid reacting like their fan base has to the Clippers loss. It hurts, it stings, they should've won the game, but it's just one loss. Two in a row isn't even a streak, it's a blip. Go out there tonight, put the Cavs in their place, and the season keeps rolling.
Two matchups worry me, and it's no surprise they're both up front. Varejao is a pure energy guy, the Sixers bigs are mostly the opposite of that. Jamison is a stretch four (who's been hitting his threes this year). Brand is just terrible at covering those guys. Figure out a way to keep Varejao off the offensive glass, and stick with Jamison on the defensive end. When you have the ball whoever Jamison is guarding is going to have a huge advantage, ride that. Just in general, attack the mismatches that present themselves throughout the game. Last night, they left a ton of points on the table going one-on-one on the perimeter while mismatches on the blocks were right there to be exposed. None of that tonight.
The tip is at 7:30pm tonight. This is your game thread. I'm going to have to watch this one on the DVR (early Valentine's day dinner for the wife who has been a saint throughout this hectic lockout season and deserves much more). You guys are on your own, keep it civil and I'll check back in the wee hours.
Prediction: PHI 97, CLE 87