The Philadelphia 76ers are worth the price of admission. There's no doubt about that statement right now. When they're bad, and they've had some horrible stretches in the first two games, it's like watching a trainwreck. Their glaring weakness is laid bare on nearly every play. Doug Collins is helpless to stop it. But when they're good, they're electric. We had a taste of both in tonight's 104-101 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Let's start with the rotation chart and four factors:
It's getting late and I still have a preview to write for tomorrow's game, so this is going to be brief. Watching this team attempt to defend, actually forget even defending, watching them trying to compete with Spencer Hawes on the floor is complete torture. Hawes is everything I thought he'd be, and less. I realize this team has limited options at the five, but I have to believe every single one of them would be far preferable to Hawes at this point and I'm hoping Collins comes to this realization sooner rather than later. If I never see another one of his soft hooks in the lane again it'll be too soon.
On the other hand, though, Nocioni has been a revelation through the first two games. Much, much, much better than I thought he'd be. Now we're only two games in, and there are definitely chinks in his mullet armor, but overall, he's been a positive on the floor. Still, we're only two games in so I'm kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop on Nocioni and by the same token, Hawes has an opportunity to improve.
Whatever Collins saw from the starting lineup with Kapono in there obviously hasn't materialized. Kapono started the first quarter, played just under 8 minutes, then never returned to the game. Collins even made the unthinkable move of changing up his starting lineup at the beginning of the third quarter, inserting Nocioni for Kapono. Unfortunately, Hawes was still in there (11 shots, I believe 4 of them were blocked for Hawes).
Anyway, for the first three quarters, the Sixers defense seemed so pitiful I was amazed every time I looked up and saw the deficit was hovering right around ten points. Andre Iguodala was the reason. He put this team on his back and kept them in it on both ends of the floor. It was great to see him put together a game like this after basically taking a backseat through the preseason and the opener.
In the fourth, I saw the Sixers team that went to the playoffs two years in a row. They applied relentless pressure on the ball, wreaking havoc on Atlanta's offense, forcing turnovers and converting those turnovers into easy points on the other end.
I touched on this prior to the season beginning, and it's counter-intuitive to a degree, but the best way for the Sixers to cover up their abhorrent interior defense is to pressure the hell out of the ball. I mean badger the ballhandler out by midcourt, double him, trap him, use every pick as an automatic double and lock down on the first pass out. Sagging back to cover for the pitiful bigs isn't going to help, it's going to lead to foul trouble for your smalls and wide open jumpers, and it still isn't going to slow down a halfway decent offensive big. The best way, the only way to minimize the damage of the interior game when your bigs are this bad is to do everything you can to keep the ball from even getting to them. Go small, go quick, and make every offensive set an complete dogfight for the opponent. Worst case, the perimeter guy gets burned off the dribble and gets an easy look at a layup. How much worse is that outcome than letting them walk the ball up and pick the mismatch of their liking?
A couple bullets for points I didn't touch on above:
- It always amazes me when defenders bit on Lou's pump fake from 20 feet, but man did he have the Hawks on the hook tonight. 13 FTA for Lou, great production.
- I'm having a hard time figuring out why Turner was the fourth guy off the bench after his debut on Wednesday. Not a strong showing tonight for ET.
- Jrue followed up his poor opener with a poor shooting second game, but he was still a positive on the floor. 8 points, 4 boards, 4 dimes, 2 steals, 1 block and most importantly, 0 turnovers. His minutes were limited by foul trouble in the first half. He played some excellent man defense during the Sixers run in the fourth. He's going to be just fine.
- Elton Brand looks born again hard.
Team Record: 0-2
Next Up: @ Indy Saturday night
Check out the game capsule for this loss here.