When the first half ends, at the end of the night, the Sixers will either have 17 wins or 18. On Pace for 34 or 36. Five games under .500 or seven. Lined up to play either Miami in the first round of the playoffs, or Boston. I can't think of a better way to end a tumultuous first half than a road win, in Orlando.
The Orlando team the Sixers will face tonight is very, very different from the depleted group they beat last month. They're also very different from the team that knocked them out of the playoffs two years ago and manhandled them last season. Otis Smith rolled the dice in a big way to shake things up and hopefully put the Magic over the top. Early returns on the trade had been promising until they started a tougher stretch of the their schedule. They come into tonight's game having lost three of their last four.
I'm on the record as saying I didn't like the moves Orlando made, mainly because they've completely backed themselves into a corner by taking on a ton of long-term salary for players who are clearly past their prime, and honestly negative value players at this stage of their careers. Hedo has had a rebirth, Gilbert Arenas is pretty much what he has been for the past couple of seasons, but they do both bring something to the table that Orlando was missing in a big way.
Orlando's huge missing piece always has been, in my opinion, a point guard who can get the ball to Dwight Howard in a timely manner. Jameer Nelson is absolutely terrible at this aspect of the game. Terrible the point where I think he legitimately holds Howard back from being the dominant offensive force he really should be at this point of his career. In Hedo and Arenas, Orlando has gotten two guys who make up for the deficiencies of their PG. Both Hedo and Gilbert will get Dwight the ball, they'll feed him off the pick-and-roll, they'll look for him in the post. Their playmaking ability is something that's been missing from Orlando since Hedo left to sign with Toronto.
Of course, when you trade for guys like Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu, there are trade offs to be made. Orlando is not nearly the defensive team they once were. When I look at the matchups, I see clear areas the Sixers can attack, against both the first and second units. That wasn't always the case. By starting Brandon Bass at the four, they also lose a great deal of the matchup problems they used to cause with Rashard Lewis pulling fours away from the hoop. Stan Van Gundy has been going to Ryan Anderson in this role recently off the bench, but he doesn't have the low-post game to go along with the long-range shot. Lewis used to kill the Sixers because Brand couldn't follow him out to the three point line and Thad was too weak to handle him on the blocks. That mismatch isn't there anymore.
Iguodala can, and probably will, shut Hedo down. Brand vs. Bass favors the Sixers, on both ends. Jrue and Jameer could swing either way, though I think that's a matchup Jrue could really attack, if he was given the opportunity. If the Sixers are going to have a chance, Jrue is really going to have to take this matchup.
Jason Richardson is head-and-shoulders above Jodie Meeks. So much so, that I'd start Evan Turner for his defense alone, though I'm confident Doug Collins won't go that route. And then we have Dwight Howard. Spencer Hawes' only value tonight is his six fouls. He'll probably have to use them when Howard grabs his first six offensive rebounds because Hawes was too lazy to even attempt to box him out. The point here is that the best - and only - defense the Sixers are going to be able to throw at Howard is to foul him when he gets close to the hoop.
Orlando has done everyone a huge favor by starting Bass alongside Howard. The Sixers should send a double whenever Howard catches with good position, and the double should come from Elton Brand. If the penalty for the double is an 18-footer from Bass, I'm fine with that. Don't get crazy in the rotations, and whatever you do, don't leave their shooters open from three. The goal here is to make Orlando's primary offense either Bass taking long twos or sending Dwight Howard to the line. If you get either one of those results, it's a win. An open three for any one of the five 40%+ three-point shooters on Orlando's squad is a clear bad possession.
Prediction: PHI 103, ORL 101. A close road win over a good team, dare to dream.
Something to keep an eye on: If Dwight Howard starts out guarding Brand, I want to see a ton of pick-and-pop with Jrue and Brand. Make Howard make a decision, either leave Brand wide open for that elbow jumper, or contest Jrue's drive to the hoop. Put pressure on him, and hopefully pull him out of the lane.
The tip is at 7pm, game thread 90 minutes prior.