The Sixers have four games left. Four. Two wins and they'll secure their first winning season in the past three years. Four wins and they'll secure at least the number five seed. One win and they'll guarantee a .500 record. They've already won five more games than last season, and about 20 more than most NBA writers had them pegged for. These are all interesting numbers, but the only number I want to talk about is three, as in three-pointers.
The Sixers will play host to the Pacers and old pal Jim O'Brien at the Wach tonight. The Indiana Pacers who are clinging to slimmest of playoff hopes are the only team in the Eastern Conference the Sixers have not beaten this season. This is the epitome of a trap game. Philly is coming off an emotional win at home against the hated (at least by me) Detroit Pistons and on Saturday they'll play what has to be the most important game of the regular season at Washington. It would only be human to overlook the Pacers, and that's exactly what Mo Cheeks has to avoid with his team.
On top of the big picture reasons why the Indiana game screams danger, there is one very tangible on-court reason to be worried about them. They shoot threes. That's an understatement. They shoot 24.4 threes per game (3rd in the league) and make 9.1 of them (also third in the league). What has been the Sixers Achilles heel all year long on defense? You guessed it, defending the three.
So, how can the Sixers avoid falling into this mammoth trap? It's pretty simple, literally. All they have to do is play straight up defense. Meaning, do not double team anyone, ever. No one on this team outside of a hampered Jermaine O'Neal even comes close to warranting a double team, Sammy can stay on an island with him for the 20 minutes he's going to play. Stay at home on the shooters, at all times. In transition, find the shooters. In the half court, stay on the shooters like glue. I realize the Sixers running style is predicated on gambling for steals sometimes, but you don't have to do that against the Pacers. They're going to settle for jumpers, deep jumpers. Long jumpers equal long rebounds, which lead to breaks. Pressure the ball in the back court, make Flip Murray and Travis Diener struggle to get the ball over half court, then fall back into a tight man-on-man. Switch high screens, don't worry about mismatches down low, that's not where you're going to get hurt. The only emphasis on the defensive side of the ball should be to never leave a shooter. Ever.
To accomplish this, Mo is going to have to limit Reggie Evans' minutes. I love Reggie, I love the energy he brings (in limited doses), but his frenetic defense is responsible for more open jumpers than anything else in the Sixers gameplan or on their roster. If you have him covering a guy like Troy Murphy (A big man who lives to shoot the three), he's going to wind up hurting you. Evans' minutes need to be cut down.
That's how you do it, now all they need to do is go out and execute. Make no mistake, this is the must-win game. This is the only one that matters right now. A loss and finishing above the #7 seed is going to be extremely difficult. This team has us all believing they belong in the playoffs. They haven't lost a game the absolutely should've won since Feb. 19th, at Minnesota. It cannot happen tonight.
The Wizards will spend the front end of their back-to-back in Detroit facing the tanking Pistons. The Raptors play host to the lifeless Nets. Cleveland gets a gimme against Chicago. A loss and they're most likely back in 7th place.
Check out Arin It Out
for Pacers coverage and hopefully the picture below in his recap of the Pacers loss after the game.