On paper, this one is a loss. The Magic excel in the biggest area of weakness for the Sixers, they're 42-16 on the season, 22-7 at home. They score more than the Sixers, they hold their opponents to fewer points. It looks like a mismatch, and it may be. After the jump we'll take a look at the stats and try to figure out a way the Sixers can make it play out differently on the court than it does on paper.
Before we get into the particulars of this game, I want to vent a little bit. As I was doing my research into the teams, I figured I'd take a look at how each team had performed in the second game of back-to-backs. Here, check out their records:
Orlando: 7-3 on the second night of back-to-backs.
Philadelphia: 5-9 on the second night of back-to-backs.
The thing that jumped out at me was that the Sixers have played 4 more back-to-backs than Orlando. Then I figured, OK, it'll even out over the remainder of the season. Well, it doesn't. I took a look at both team's schedules and Orlando only has 6 more, including tonight. The Sixers have 7 more, including tonight. 21 back-to-backs on the Sixers' schedule, only 16 for Orlando. I didn't have time to go through all the teams, but I did find that Boston also only has 16 back-to-backs on their schedule.
I understand that superstars have things handed to them in this league. They get every touch call, they get to the line, they don't get travels called. What I didn't realize was that the league gave them easier schedules. I mean, the Sixers are playing more than 25% of their games at a disadvantage. This is the opposite of what the NFL does with their schedule. I'd love to do a more in-depth analysis of the league-wide schedule, but that's going to have to wait for another day when I have more time. For now, just realize the league has screwed the Sixers, but it's something they'll have to overcome.
Back to tonight's game. Since losing Jameer Nelson to a shoulder injury, Orlando is 6-5. Since acquiring Rafer Alston to replace him, they're 3-2 with losses to Detroit at home and Chicago on the road. This is not the same team without Nelson, and they are beatable.
Advantage number one for the Sixers is Miller over Alston. Miller can, and will, abuse Alston on the blocks, on the perimeter and pretty much everywhere else. Expect the Sixers to go to this match-up early and often. Andre played a healthy 38 minutes last night, so let's hope he's got enough left in his legs to properly punish Alston.
Andre Iguodala has a big athletic advantage over Hedo, as well. He should be looking to make up for last night's poor showing in New York.
One more advantage for the Sixers, but this has more to do with their lineup in general than the Magic. When the Sixers last visited them in Florida, they had Elton Brand and Dalembert down low. The Magic took advantage of the Brand/Lewis match-up down low, with Lewis stretching the floor. This time, Thad will be playing the four, and he can follow Lewis all over the court (let's just hope he doesn't lose him like he did at the end of the game we will not speak of).
Finally, my key to the game. Sam Dalembert, Theo Ratliff and Marreese Speights absolutely must be left on an island with Dwight Howard. I don't care if he scores 40 and goes to the line 20 times, do not double him. Orlando's offense isn't about riding Howard, it's about using Howard down low to open up their three-point shooters. Dwight Howard alone is not going to beat you, I don't care if he dominates Sammy. If the Sixers lose this game, it will be because they were killed from three. Do not leave shooters to double Howard.
The tip is at 7pm, and unfortunately, I'm going to have to watch this one on DVR. Family obligations and all. So use the comments to leave your thoughts during the game and I'll chime in with mine later tonight.