For the first time in about a month, the schedule will favor the Sixers when they take the floor tonight against the Houston Rockets. Houston lost a close game to the Celtics in Boston last night, James Harden (40) and Jeremy Lin (36) both played heavy minutes. No time like the present.
If the Sixers want a shot at the playoffs, they're going to have to end this extended spurt of disheartened play as soon as possible. The home/road split favors them for a while, they're only four games out of the #8 seed with no teams in between them and the Bucks. If they get it together soon, it's still doable. If you've got your sights set on a high draft pick, well, I guess the good news is they're on the verge of falling behind the Raptors and the Pistons aren't far behind.
As a fan who won't stop watching, I don't want to be stuck watching another 44 games of this slop, so I'm rooting for the turnaround. This team is woefully undermanned, they've got one player who can honestly be described as good or better on the NBA sliding scale, but as a unit, they aren't this bad. No team is as bad as they've played over their past four games. If they're going to begin to turn things around, it's going to have to start on the defensive end, and that's a lot about effort.
The Sixers have gotten lazy in their rotations, they've gotten undisciplined with their responsibilities, they've gotten softer (who would've thought that was possible?) and even when they've been able to get stops, they've failed to secure defensive boards. James Harden is going to pose a big problem tonight. The Sixers need to do their best to keep him out of the paint, but that's only going to slow him down. The interior defenders need to somehow develop some toughness in this game. When Harden goes into the paint, he gets whistles. Probably more than any other player in the league, he's rewarded for his aggression. Realize that's going to happen. Realize that if you try to block his shot without fouling, he's going to get the whistle and finish anyway. The only way to deal with a guy who can penetrate like that and gets the favorable whistles is to make it painful for him to do so. He's going to the line anyway, so make the fouls count. No touch fouls. No lazy reach-ins. Whenever Harden gets in the lane, he gets met with a big body and those big bodies make sure his shot never gets up to the rim. Hard, clean fouls. Harden picking himself up off the floor to take two free throws, not Harden pumping his fist and heading to the line to complete a three-point play. Chase him off the three-point line, give him long twos and every single time he sets foot in the paint, you make him pay the price. See if he's willing to continue to take the punishment for free throws, rather just being handed points by the refs for touch fouls.
When the Sixers have the ball, they're facing what is probably the worst defensive backcourt to start in the NBA since the Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley days. Forget about the pointless Hawes dribble-handoff play, start Wright at the three and just keep using Jrue and Turner to drive past their men and get into the paint. If/when the defense collapses, kick out for threes, not long twos.
I wish there was a more elegant solution on the offensive end, but Houston's starters are just so weak defensively, you have to attack them.
The tip is at 7:30pm. I'm not sure if I'll be home in time for the game thread so keep it fun if I'm absent. Will the turnaround start tonight? Color me slightly optimistic.