Another Western Conference powerhouse heads into the WFC tonight. The Spurs, much like the Lakers, have been dreadful on the road, but also like the Lakers, they have a bevy of big men who will test the Sixers weakened front court. Will Philly be able to figure out a way to keep the Spurs bigs off the offensive glass, or at least be able to compensate for the deficit again?
Here are the name you should etch into your mind before the tip: DeJaun Blair, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan. Those are the four guys who will get on the offensive glass to steal extra possessions for the Spurs. Blair and Leonard are especially good on the offensive glass, even if the team as a whole is pretty much average.
We're spending so much time on rebounding because it was a big problem against the Lakers and early indications are the Sixers will be without Spencer Hawes again tonight. It's unclear whether Brand will play. The front line becomes extremely thin without those two, though if Spencer is going to compete for boards like he did in the past two games, they might be better off without him.
I tried to dig a little deeper into why the Spurs are so bad on the road (4-8), yet so good at home (13-1), and it wound up not requiring a whole lot of digging. They shoot much better at home than they do on the road, and their opponents shoot much better away from San Antonio. The rest of the advanced stats are pretty much in line. It's hard to explain, but usually when you see splits like that it has to do with a team's bench performing better at home.
As usual, the Spurs run a really smart offense, attempting five more shots at the rim than from 16-23 feet, per game, pretty much the exact opposite of the Sixers. They take a good number of threes/game, and convert at a good percentage. Their biggest threats from deep are Richard Jefferson, Matt Bonner, Gary Neal and Danny Green. Bonner and Jefferson are both comfortably north of 40% from deep, while the other two are a bit better than league average, but will shoot a bunch.
San Antonio has nine guys averaging more than 20 minutes per game, with Tony Parker leading the way with 33.8 min/gm, followed by Jefferson at a flat 30. With Popovich rotating guys in and out like that, I wouldn't expect the Sixers to be able to wear them down, but that doesn't mean the Sixers bench won't have an advantage. With Ginobili out and Leonard in the lineup, the Spurs bench is somewhat weakened, and they really don't have a ton of offense coming in with their second unit. Splitter has been very good, and I could see the combo of Splitter and Bonner up front giving the Sixers problems is they don't maintain discipline, but neither of those guys can cover Thad. Honestly, he should have a field day all night.
It'll be interesting to see how the Sixers match up with their starters. Jefferson is a bigger threat on the offensive end, but there's absolutely no way you can put Meeks on Leonard, the guy is a beast. I think they're going to have to live with Meeks on Jefferson and just hope he can stick with him. Jrue is going to have his hands full with Tony Parker, who scored 42 points a couple games ago. Parker isn't getting to the rim as much as he did in the past, and he hasn't exactly been scoring efficiently, but he's still the engine that drives their offense. Jrue needs to keep him out of the lane, keep him settling for long twos (he averages 5.2 attempts from 16-23 feet/game). With Duncan severely slowed by injury, and probably not requiring a double team regularly, it's Parker's penetration that creates open looks for their three-point shooters. Jrue has been great on defense so far this season, he needs to keep that up tonight against one of the league's quicker point guards.
On the offensive end, it's just going to take more of the same. The Sixers rely way too much on long twos, the Spurs love teams to take long twos against them (it's been their philosophy for over a decade), I wouldn't expect either trend to change tonight. Let's just hope the Sixers are getting the shots for the right guys, and it would be great if they'd use Jrue's size advantage at least a couple of times.
Speaking of Jrue, he had one of the best games of his career against the Spurs last season, and really carried them to a 77-71 win. Another performance like that would be greatly appreciated.
The tip is at 7pm. Game thread will land at five.