The Sixers were all business on Christmas, fitting in a practice in preparation for tonight's season opener in Portland. They planned another in the morning on the left coast. As a preview today, let's take a look at what the Sixers need to accomplish on the defensive end tonight.
OK, so the first step is going to be identifying what you don't want the Blazers to get. This is pretty simple for their starters. Three keys: (1) No open threes for Wes Matthews, (2) Keep LaMarcus Aldridge out of the paint. (3) Limit Gerald Wallace's drives.
The first is self-explanatory, and probably not all that difficult to do. Force Matthews to drive, don't leave him on rotations. He's the guy you have to mark, and don't help off him. Meeks will have the matchup, to start, keep an eye on whether he's wandering off Matthews.
Aldridge is tricky. He really turned things around last year in terms of shot selection. Well, maybe that's not really accurate. In the past, he was a guy who took a ton of long twos. Last season, he upped his FGA by 2.5/game, and almost all of those added attempts came in the paint. His long twos were pretty much the same, but as a percentage of his total attempts, they dropped. The goal here is to get Aldridge to fall in love with the long two. It's counter-intuitive, but the best way to accomplish it is to make it easy for him early in the game. Give him the pop on the pick-and-pop and hope he drains two or three early jumpers. If he's on from long range, he'll settle for them the rest of the night instead of going to work on the blocks. I've seen it happen time and time again with him. Give him a taste and he can't resist.
Gerald Wallace is a different animal altogether. When he's on and he's getting the ball, he can be impossible to contain. He's one of the few wings who has the strength to drive through Iguodala. The best thing to do is deny him the ball, if he gets it, back off and dare him to shoot jumpers. Wallace isn't a high-usage guy, and I kind of doubt Portland is going to be looking to go at Iguodala. Play it smart and keep him off the offensive glass and this shouldn't be too hard to accomplish.
Aldridge and Wallace combined for 11.3 shots at the rim per game last year, keep that number in the single digits, that would be a good start.
Rumor has it, Portland is going to try to run this season. Whether they're speaking relatively or literally is up for debate, because they were dead last in the league in pace last season. If they are committed to running, run right with them. This is something new for Portland and with the abbreviated preseason, they're going to have serious growing pains. The faster the pace, the better for the Sixers, especially considering Aldridge needs to log huge minutes for them, and Camby is their other legit big. Let them run their bigs right out of the game, and capitalize on the turnovers they'll surely have if they up the pace.
The tip is at 10pm, Eastern. Our very first game thread will be up at 5pm.
One final thing to keep an eye on, which bench player gets the most minutes tonight? My money is on Turner.