The Sixers and the Magic both head into tonight's game in Orlando as early-season disappointments. The Sixers have dropped games to the Raptors, Hawks and Miami. Orlando to the Hawks and Grizzlies. Both teams were built for something more this season. They've got expectant fanbases looking forward to the playoffs, and more than a first-round exit once they get there.
Either way, one of these teams will wake up Friday having finally beat a legitimate playoff team, let's hope it's the Sixers who have that pleasure. After the jump we'll take a look at what's plaguing the Magic, and how Philly can exacerbate those problems and get back to .500.
The old adage goes, "Live by the three, die by the three," and Orlando is proving it true thus far. Looking at the stats from 07/08 as compared to the first four games of this season, one thing jumps out, 3pt percentage. Last year, they shot nearly 39% from three as a team, so far this season, they're hovering right around 30%. For some teams, the disparity wouldn't be that big of a deal. For this team, though, the three is their biggest weapon.
One out of every three FG attempts for the Magic comes from downtown. That's an insane percentage. When you go from shooting an excellent percentage from out there to shooting a very poor percentage, you're going to have problems. This is both good news and bad news for the Sixers. If the trend continues, that's great. It won't matter how many wide-open threes the Magic get, because they can't sink them. Of course, leaving these guys open for threes is also a perfect solution to their shooting woes. Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkuglu are not poor shooters. At some point, they're going to pull it together and shoot their career averages.
Which brings me to the defensive philosophy. Let Dwight Howard do his worst down low. If the Magic decide they want to go to Howard in the post all night long, fine. Let Sammy, or Elton or maybe even Theo handle him one on one. Use your fouls on him, make him earn as many of his points from the line as possible, but whatever you do, do not double him. Never. This team is predicated upon ball movement and open threes. If there's one thing we know the Sixers cannot do, it's rotate to cover shooters after a double team.
I think Mo is going to have to consider a personnel shift as well. The natural match-ups for the starting lineups would probably be as follows:
- Miller - Jameer Nelson
- Iguodala - Pietrus
- Thad - Hedo
- Dalembert - Rashard Lewis
- Brand - Dwight Howard
I'm basing this on the fact that Brand has taken the bigger of the PF/C's from the other team thus far this season, but he could swap with Sammy. The problem is that Rashard Lewis is not a typical power forward. He's averaging 8 three point attempts per game. Neither Sammy nor Brand is all that comfortable following their guy out to the perimeter. Honestly, I'd feel much more comfortable having Thad blanket Rashard. You could do this with personnel (go with a small lineup, sliding Iguodala to the three, Thad to the four, and putting Rush at the 2), or you can do this with creative match-ups, maybe putting Iguodala on Hedo and letting Dalembert cover Pietrus.
The Sixers need to break out of this slump and while we've spent this entire entry talking about defense, the key will probably take place on the other side of the court. If the Sixers can take care of the ball, they should be able to win. That's been the main missing ingredient in their losses.
8 p.m. tip-off, on TNT.