30-17 over their last 47. 9-2 over their last 11. 15-5 in their last 20 home games. These streaks are meaningless to a lot of people. Some are starting to catch on, but I think what's missing is a signature win. Why the San Antonio win doesn't count is beyond me, maybe it's just that the Spurs aren't everyone's darling. Enter Kevin Durant and the uber-special OKC Thunder. Tonight is a chance for the Sixers to make a statement on their home floor and send a message people can't ignore.
OKC depends on Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant for almost 50% of their scoring. Durant is simply a scoring machine and he represents the biggest challenge Andre Iguodala will face the rest of the season. If Iguodala wants to put another bullet point on his defensive player of the year resume, tonight is that opportunity. Durant isn't Danny Granger. He won't stop shooting and get discouraged because Iguodala is all over him. He's going to keep shooting. He's going to keep driving, trying to draw fouls, and he's going to get calls. If Iguodala is going to stop him, he's going to need to turn in his best defensive effort of the season. Even if the goal is to merely slow Durant down, he's going to need to be excellent. You'd have to expect Durant to be the second player to break 25 points on Iguodala this season tonight, the deciding factor will be how effectively he's able to score those points.
I have full confidence in Iguodala, there's no reason not to, unfortunately, I don't think the game will be decided on his defense. It's going to come down to how well Jrue specifically, and the team in general, handles Russell Westbrook. Jrue has been inconsistent, to be kind, on the defensive end. Dominant one night, lost for the next several. Early in the season he had a problem with early fouls, lately, he's started out perhaps too passive on the defensive end. Maybe one has something to do with the other. No matter what the cause, they need more out of Jrue on the defensive end tonight. They need him to be physical, they need him to be active, they need him to be quick, and above all, they need him to be decisive. The Sixers bigs are pitiful at defending the pick-and-roll (Thad is the best, and he's made tremendous improvements lately), they rarely show, they never show effectively. Jrue needs to make up or their errors as much as possible. First, make Westbrook use the screen. Don't bail too early and leave the opposite side of the floor wide open. Second, get under the screen quickly. If Westbrook catches fire from three, you either adjust or you live with it, but philosophically, you want him taking that shot. He doesn't shoot a lot of threes, and when he does, he doesn't shoot them well. Get under that screen and beat Westbrook to the spot. Don't get there late and foul him, just cut off the direct line to the hoop. Keep your feet square and move them on straight dribble penetration. Don't allow Westbrook to be a north-south driver, make him stop, make him change direction, make him weave. Jrue completely shut Westbrook down in OKC last season, he needs to do it again tonight.
OKC is a much deeper team than just Durant and Westbrook, but they have to be the focus. A few other fun matchups and keys to the game:
- Turner vs. Harden - Should be fun to watch on both ends.
- Brand vs. Ibaka - Not sure how Brand will handle Ibaka, but he could/should pull Serge out of the lane on the offensive end, which will help.
- Will the Thunder go small? They could move Durant to the four when Thad comes in, if they do, keep Iguodala glued to Durant and let Thad guard Harden, or whoever else they use at the three. Then let Thad attack Durant on the defensive end.
- Under no circumstances, allow Lou to guard Russell Westbrook. That's possibly one of the biggest mismatches possible in the NBA
Prediction: PHI 105, OKC 99.
Further Prediction: Kevin Durant's disembodied head will grace Iguodala's victim list after tonight's game, right next to Kobe's.
This is a huge game for the Sixers on a number of different levels. OKC is well-rested, the Sixers played last night (40 minutes for Iguodala, 38 for Jrue). They're going to need to dig deep and show some real character to pull this one off. It's been there all year, let's see it one more time tonight.
The tip is at 7pm. Game thread will land 90 minutes prior.