Elton or not to Elton, that is the question. Not for the long term, obviously, I'm just talking about today. Personally, I could go either way. If you play him, he then has a full four days to recover. Then again, if you hold him back, he's got another four days of rehab and recovery before he gets back out there. I think I'd lean toward the latter.
Much more on EB, "the streak," and today's match-up with Dallas after the jump.
You're going to have to bear with me through this post. If today's game was at 7pm instead of 1 I would've written 3 posts to get all of these thoughts out there (you have a lot of time to think about basketball when you spend 5 hours driving listening to kids' music over 2 days). I just want to get all of these thoughts down before the tip.Today's Match-up
The Sixers and the Mavs should be very familiar to each other when they tip it off this afternoon. I believe the game they played in Dallas a couple of weeks ago was right in the middle of the turnaround, when the Sixers were putting together their style of play, but hadn't quite established the trust in each other, and the system, to maximize their talents.
On that night, the Mavs used their go-to guy and plays to pull away from the Sixers in the fourth, today's game is going to be about figuring out a way to minimize the damage on Dirk's pick-and-pops and forcing the Mavs to get up and down the floor for 48 minutes. Those are my two keys, and they should be blatantly obvious to everyone at this point. Truth be told, though, the second is probably the biggest key to the game.
The goal of the Sixers should be to run the Mavs old and/or slow players into submission. Force them to limit the minutes of Dirk, Kidd and Dampier. The Mavs have played horribly on the road recently (0-4, including losses @ Memphis and Sacramento). They've given up an average of 108 points/game over that stretch. You can run on this team, and that needs to be the Sixers top priority throughout the game.
As a team, the Mavs are a below-average three-point shooting team. Nowitzki, Terry, Howard and Kidd are all shooting above average, but their percentages have really dropped off since the last time these teams met. The rest of the team is below average, although they still like to shoot threes.
We'll get to the larger question for the Sixers a little later in this post.The Streak
I'd like to talk a little about this streak, because I'm not sure most people fully grasp exactly how good the Sixers have been over the past 8 games (I'm conservatively going to count the San Antonio loss as part of the streak of great play). Above, you'll see two charts. The standard stats in the top, and then the four factors stats below.
Let's start with the second chart first. The stark difference between the past 8 games and previous 32 is the eFG. The Sixers have out-shot their opponents in 6 of the 8 games, that only happened in 8 of the previous 32. More importantly, their cumulative eFG for the period has been an ungodly .556. Phoenix currently leads the league in eFG on the season at .543. When you look at the cumulative stats, the Sixers are winning all five "battles" over the stretch. Just a shocking turn of events.
When we look at the more traditional stats, the three-point shooting stands out (46.8%) as being both amazing and completely unsustainable, but even a regression to their paltry season average wouldn't account for the 10.7 point differential. This team has been getting it done on both ends of the floor at an amazing rate. While I don't expect them to average 104.8 ppg the rest of the way, I don't think it's out of the question to expect 94.1 ppg allowed. If they can sustain that number, they're going to win many, many more than they lose.
One thing I failed to mention in my recap of the Knicks' game is the rebounding they got out of Thad and Speights, Thad especially. An interesting tidbit to take away from Thad's game logs. His minutes go up when he's hitting the glass. Over the past 8 games, Thad has played 35 minutes or more 5 times. In each of those games he had more than 3 offensive rebounds. In the three games in which he saw less than 35 minutes of action he had 0, 0 and 2. More evidence that you earn your minutes under Coach DiLeo, and you earn them within that game, not based on past performance. (Someone should really show stats like this to the players.)
One more rambling point, then I'm going to rest up and get ready for the game.The EB Question
As I said before the jump, if it were up to me, I'd opt to hold EB back until Saturday's game. The main reason is to get him another 4 days of rest/recovery/rehab for the shoulder, but there are few other issues we need to touch on. The first being the goals, and priority of those goals, for Elton's return. Here's my list:
- Get EB in game-shape, and test that shoulder to make sure it's healthy.
- Integrate EB into the newly re-found up-tempo style of this team.
- Mitigate the negative press and connotations of a loss in Brand's return.
The first two goals rank much, much higher on the list for obvious reasons, but I don't think we should completely discount the third out of hand. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Say the Sixers bring EB back today, and the Sixers lose to the Mavericks. What do you think the lead will be in every story written about the game? I'll tell you what it will be, "Sixers better off without Brand." Add to that the fact that those stories will be written for four consecutive off days and you may begin to see my point.
You absolutely can't make decisions based on what the press might write, but in this case, I think holding him back could serve all three goals. As far as conditioning is concerned, how much of a benefit is 20 minutes of playing time followed by 4 off days going to provide? Let him keep working out off the court, then bring him back on Saturday when the team has 5 games in 8 days. He'll have time to rest in between games (no back-to-backs until the 30th and 31st, in fact, their schedule is extremely favorable for the next month. Only two back-to-backs, the one mentioned above and then Feb. 16th and 17th). They could also use the four off days this week to get Brand onto the court in 5 on 5 scrimmages to integrate him into the team's new style.
Heck, there may even be an argument to be made for holding him back until the team lost again. I mean, as I've said before, dislocated shoulders are very tough injuries to come back from, especially for a basketball player. Think of the current winning streak as buying time for EB. As long as the team's winning, what's the rush?
As a hopelessly optimistic Sixers' fan, I want to see EB back on the court as soon as possible because I believe he's smart, dedicated and versatile enough to integrate with the current version of the team seamlessly. As a realistic Sixers' fan, I want him to come back to a situation where the deck isn't stacked against him, at least in the public's eye.
What do you guys think? Get him out there as soon as possible, or play it safe (and smart?)
Thoughts in the comments now, in-game discussion in the comments during the game. See you there.