The Orlando Magic probably won't notice much difference between tonight's game and their last visit to Philadelphia. Pretty tame crowd, maybe an occasional chorus of boos, facing a team on the brink of elimination and seemingly powerless to do anything about it. I was shocked to see the Sixers are only 4-point underdogs in this one, maybe Vegas has bought into the "playing up to their competition," vibe.
Injury update: Brand is listed as day-to-day, but he says he wants to play. Jason Smith if feeling better and will be available tonight. Willie Green is a question mark, probably won't go. Lou Williams apparently hit Jrue's busted lip with a shoulder on something (probably on purpose). The rook missed the second half of practice yesterday, but my bet is he'll play. Allen Iverson is still on personal leave, and he's taking some heat for showing up in Charlotte over the weekend. I honestly don't care at all.
The Magic are 20 games over .500. They're probably a lock for the #2 seed in the East. They sport the 4th-most-efficient defense and the 9th-most-efficient offense. Still, they seem beatable to me. I'm not talking about beatable for the Sixers tonight so much as beatable in a 7-game series. Vince Carter has been pedestrian, at best. Matt Barnes is now their starting three. Rashard Lewis isn't getting enough shots. Jameer Nelson's numbers are down from his career high. The size mismatches Hedo used to cause at the three are gone. This is definitely a flawed team.
That being said, they shouldn't have any problem with the Sixers tonight. Here are the matchups:
Holiday vs. Jameer Nelson - Nelson isn't a big assist guy. He runs their offense efficiently, he can shoot the three, but penetration isn't really an issue. I don't see Jrue having many problems sticking with him on the defensive end. Offensively, Jrue needs to continue to go to the hole, and hopefully he'll have the ball in his hands for more half-court sets.
Lou Williams vs. Vince Carter - I'm thinking Iguodala probably gets this assignment on the defensive end. Offensively, they probably cancel each other out.
Iguodala vs. Barnes - Clear advantage for the Sixers, and Barnes is taking way too many threes, and shooting them at only a 29% clip.
Brand (or Thad) vs. Rashard - This is a tough call. Brand will lose Lewis on the perimeter and he'll rain down threes on the Sixers. If it's Thad, well, we all remember seeing Rashard pick on Thad in the playoffs last season. He took Thad to the post multiple times and never had a problem scoring on him.
Sammy vs. Dwight - HUGE advantage for the Magic, and probably the most-important matchup. If the Sixers need to/decide to send doubles to help Sammy (which they shouldn't), it's going to be a long night with Orlando's shooters.
Off the bench, keep an eye on Redick and Jason Williams. If we can somehow get Howard into foul trouble, we'll get another firsthand look at the Polish Hammer. Looking forward to that.
Keys to the Game: Defensive rebounding (especially if we go small for 40+ minutes in Brand's absence, and three-point defense, obviously.
If ___________ the Sixers will win: I'm going with a big game from Sammy on the defensive end. If he can frustrate Howard early, I think the hedgehog will look elsewhere for offense, which is a big win for the Sixers.
This is your game thread. I'll be here throughout, so join me if you're struggling with the loss of your superstar status.