The Cleveland Cavaliers have lost four straight games by a total of 91 points. Included in the impressive list of defeats was a 34-point drubbing at the hands of the mighty Minnesota Timberwolves. Their early-season luck has run out and this shell of a team is reeling. The Sixers can have no mercy.
We have a body of work between these teams from earlier in the season. The Sixers lost both games, one at home and one on the road. Jrue absolutely dominated the first game, dropping 29 points on 17 shots with 8 dimes, but the Sixers fell apart defensively in the fourth. In the second game, the third quarter did them in, and Thad was the star. Iguodala was hurt halfway through the first game and missed the second entirely.
Make no mistake, this game absolutely, positively must be a win. Cleveland has the second-worst offense in the league, and their defense isn't much better. They don't present any matchup problems, at all. On paper, the one area that concerns me a little bit is defensive rebounding. Varejao is capable of being destructive, the Sixers need to find him and keep a body on him at all times. Jrue, Turner, Meeks and Iguodala should be able to keep Mo Williams out of the lane, I'm hoping Lou won't be on him at all. Boobie Gibson and Anthony Parker can hurt you from distance and Antawn Jamison is always a wild card, still, this has to be a win.
To be honest, the particulars of this matchup don't interest me a whole lot. What matters to me right now is figuring out if what I've seen over the past week or so is (a) legitimate and (b) sustainable. The Sixers should be riding a four-game winning streak right now. They've played five solid games in a row (save six minutes against Atlanta) and they seem to be coming together as a team. They seem almost like a good team. If that wasn't smoke and mirrors, if they really are taking Collins' message to heart and coming together to form a whole that's better than the sum of its parts, I'm game. I'll root for the playoffs, I'll root for the upset wins, I'll go nuts. I'm a sucker like that. I love seeing spirited basketball being played by the Sixers, damn the consequences. But if I'm going to truly buy in, if I'm going to ignore the inherent weakness of the roster and the dire straights the franchise is probably in, then they have to show me something. They have to beat the teams they're supposed to beat and they have to look good doing it.
The latest test starts tonight at 7pm. One of these teams should have five wins, the other should have 9 or 10, easily. Things haven't gone that way to this point, clearly. Beat the teams you're supposed to beat, that's how it starts.
Prediction: Sixers 110, Cavs 95
The tip is at 7, game thread will be up at 5:30.