One game remains before the Sixers take a break from hoops over All Star Weekend. One final game before Ed Stefanski mingles with the other decision makers from around the league in Dallas, possibly to decide the fate of this franchise. Tonight's game against the Raptors shouldn't mean a whole lot, in the grand scheme of things, but I think it might. Preview and game thread after the jump.
Toronto completely turned their season around when Jose Calderon went down with an injury and Jarrett Jack was inserted into the starting lineup. Jack gave them a grand total of one legitimate defender on the floor with their starting five, and apparently one is all they needed. 19 wins and 10 losses later, Toronto has climbed all the way up to the #5 seed in the East.
That being said, I wouldn't exactly call Toronto a stout team. They still have the absolute worst defense in the league. 30th out of 30 teams, worse than the Warriors, if you can believe it. While the defense has improved, it's still not even below average. It's just good enough that their outstanding offense (3rd in the league) can outscore opponents more often than not.
So how do you attack a team that can score at will and has serious trouble stopping people from scoring? I'd do it with pressure, intense pressure. When Toronto gets into its offense, they create odd mismatches. Most of this stems from the fact they have a 7'1" small forward playing center. My defensive goal would be to make it terribly difficult to get into their sets. I'd press. I'd use Jrue to extend pressure on the ball out on the floor, making passing difficult. I'd trap the pick and roll aggressively. Even if the traps and pressure lead to a few wide open looks, so be it. I'd use my extreme athletic advantage to disrupt Toronto's offense and force as many turnovers as possible.
On the offensive end, you can pretty much do whatever you want. Bargnani, Bosh and Hedo are all sub-par defenders. I'd probably run through Brand in the hopes of getting Bosh in early foul trouble, with Iguodala driving past Turk as the second option. When Calderon comes into the game, I'd put him in pick and rolls with whoever Bargnani is "covering."
Toronto has been playing well, but they are an deeply flawed roster. A smart coach can, and should, be able to draw up plans that take them out of their game and exploit their tremendous defensive weaknesses.
Or, you can just go out there, play their game and hope their defense is bad enough to allow you to keep pace with them. Personally, I think that's a losing proposition when I look at these two rosters.
Key to The Game: Forcing turnovers.
If __________ the Sixers will win: Fewer than 10 made threes for TOR.
This is your game thread. I'll be dressed warmly, sipping hot chocolate and suffering through the final game before the break right here all night long. Join me if you can. Can they possibly make it 6?