In a season full of surprising wins, we find ourselves needing a few more as the Sixers head into the final 10 games of the season. Tonight's game, against Atlanta, needs to be the first.
When I look at Atlanta's stats and their roster I notice a lot of similarities to the Sixers. They play a small lineup, they rely on offensive rebounds and getting to the line. They're led by a veteran point in his walk year. Their both led by a budding star on the wing. The main difference is that Atlanta is league-average from three and the Sixers are, well, the Sixers from deep.
Neither team does a particularly good job on the defensive glass, both teams avoid sending their opponents to the line. And both teams play a small lineup, although I think Atlanta's lineup is smaller with Horford at the 5.
The Sixers are going to have an interesting opportunity against the Hawks' starting lineup. Joe Johnson, their shooting guard, is obviously their best offensive player. Normally, you'd see Willie Green or Andre Miller matched up with him, but by starting Maurice Evans at the three, I think we're going to see Andre Iguodala taking the challenge of guarding Johnson. This should help the team defense a great deal. Johnson would've abused either Green or Miller in the post, Iguodala has the size and strength to neutralize that part of his game and Evans is more of a threat on the perimeter, so Willie/Miller should have an easier time contending with him.
The big question heading into the game is Samuel Dalembert's availability. If he can play, he's going to have his hands full keeping Horford off the glass. If he can't, the Sixers are going to be stretched thin up front. He was listed as a game-time decision as of this morning. I'm not sure what to expect in his absence. I'd hope the minutes at the 5 would be split between Ratliff and Speights, but Theo isn't getting any younger and Speights has been dreadful recently. I'm afraid we're going to have to endure Reggie at the five for stretches. If that's the case, I hope we see some zone because the Sixers' philosophy of funnelling drivers to the shot blocker absolutely cannot work with Reggie in the middle.
The matchup I'm most looking forward to is Thad Young vs. Josh Smith. Smith is a superior shot blocker and he may just be the only PF in the league who's quick enough to keep up with Thad. If Thad's jumper is falling, he could pull Smith away from the basket which would help open the lane for drives. On defense, Thad would be advised to lay off Smith and invite him to shoot from range. Smith has one of the worst jumpers in the league.
Make no mistake, this is going to be a tough game for the Sixers. The Hawks' strengths lie in areas of Sixers weakness. They don't turn the ball over, and they don't foul. One area Philly needs to take advantage of is the offensive glass. Atlanta is under-sized up front, so a concerted effort needs to be made to crash the boards and extend possessions.
A bunch of us will be in attendance, and we actually still have two free tickets if anyone wants to come down to the Wach and join us. Just send me an email and I'll give you all the details. It's going to be up to you guys to handle the in-game discussion, but below you'll see a Twitter widget. During the day, and then the game, I'll be posting updates there.
Games don't get much more important than this one in the regular season, win and all the pressure is on Miami to win on the road to hold onto the number 5 seed. Lose and we could be fighting for our playoff lives down the stretch.
If you're at the game, we'll be outside of Finnegans, section 105/106 at the half, hope to see you there.