Today’s edition of “Fo’ with the Foes” — Philadunkia’s advanced scouting series which with the help of an accomplished journalist from around the NBA beat or blog world, previews upcoming 76ers opponents — features tonight’s opponent, the team the 76ers just defeated on Saturday night, the three-point shooting, defensively challenged Indiana Pacers. 

The 76ers and their new first-five should handle the Indiana Pacers again tonight and thus establish their first 3-game winning streak of the season.  However, even if the Sixers win tonight, we’re still not going to become believers in this team. 

The W over the Mavs on Friday night at first glance was impressive, but if you look deeper at that win, you’ll see that Dallas was road weary (4th game of a 5 game road trip), shot horribly — 39% on FGA and 20% on 3PA and got nothing from all-world forward Dirk Diggler (4-13 from the field).  So the Sixers caught a very good Mavs team on a completely off night.  In Saturday’s  win at Indiana, the Sixers played well, but defeated a horrible team in the Pacers that had an especially bad night (21 TOs that led to 27 points), even by the Pacers low standards.  So it’s going to take more then a second consecutive W over the lowly Pacers to convince us that the Sixers have righted the ship for the 2009-10 season.

For a little more insight into the Pacers team the Sixers face tonight, we turn to our man Jared Wade from to answer two questions on the Pacers from us here at Philadunkia as well as provide us with two points of analysis on this Indiana squad from an insider’s perspective. 

Philadunkia : The Pacers are one of the worst defensive teams in the League and the 76ers are not too far behind them.  Neither Jim O’Brien nor Eddie Jordan stress defending very much. For us it is one of the most infuriating things about the Sixers because it seems rather obvious to us that title contending NBA teams all play defense, so it seems silly to pretend that it doesn’t matter.  But even more basic then that is the idea that if the Sixers could get a stop when they absolutely need it every once in a while that they’d have 10 more wins.  What are your thoughts on this “offense 24/7” attitude that O’Brien and Jordan both display?

Jared Wade @ : I would never argue that the Pacers were a team capable of getting stops when they need it — those sorts of “playoff stops” that truly good teams can get.  And Jim O’Brien will never be confused with Gregg Popovich.  But while the defense is certainly a major issue, the Pacers more immediate problem this season has been its incompetent offense.  Indiana has hasn’t shared Philly’s “close but no cigar” brand of futility, but instead been flat blown out too many times due to the team’s inability to put points on the board (Indy’s average scoring margin is -5.2 ppg vs. Philly’s -2.6, for example.). 

Too many fourth quarters have started withthe Pacers down 10 or more points and it’s not always because they are giving up 30+ point quarters.  Overall, the team is allowing its opponents to shoot 45.2% from the field, which is actually a little better than League average, but, on offense, they can only manage 43.3%, which is worse than every other team except Milwaukee and New Jersey.  Every game, they go on scoring droughts and even when the team defense is playing OK, guys like Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy and Roy Hibbert are inevitably going to get exploited — particularly when the periods of offensive stagnation are usually marked by a lot of missed threes and long missed jumpers that quickly go back the other way.  Turnovers, too are an issue, as I’m sure you noticed while they were coughing up 21 of them on Saturday night.

So I would say that the Pacers are a little bit the opposite of your characterization of the Sixers then. If they could just consistently shoot 45%-46% from the floor on offense (which is only asking for league average efficiency) and not turn the ball over so much (they’re 26th in the league at 15.6 giveaways per), then they could have several more wins even with their very penetrable defense.  Maybe not 10 more wins, but at least 3 or 4 — and in the East, that would make them a borderline playoff team

Philadunkia :  What happened to TJ Ford that he went from starting and playing decently (From what we could tell.) to being glued to the Pacers bench since the end of December to now being the subject of numerous trade rumors?

Jared Wade @ : TJ’s play is staggeringly erratic. I was never really a fan of his game even before he got to Indiana, but I had no idea how inconsistent he was.  And it’s not even that he will have a good game then two bad games and then a good game.  It’s that he will have a great first quarter where he hits 4 of 5 shots and gets to the hoop to disrupt the other defense … and then he’ll turn the ball over four times in the second quarter and not even attempt a shot.  It’s baffling.  He actually had a couple of very good games in November, which was encouraging after last season when he was in a constant battle for a starting role with Jarrett Jack.  I fully expected the same thing this season eventually with Earl Watson — which sort of shows how high the expectations are for the TJ Ford era in Conseco Fieldhouse. 

Predictably, his quality play disappeared around the same time as my Thanksgiving leftovers.  He stopped scoring with any semblance of efficiency and he’s never had much feel for getting the ball to the right guy at the right time nor even really commanding or setting up the offense as true point guard should, so there really wasn’t much left for O’Brien to like.  That, plus Watson learning the offense and more regularly being his solid (particularly on defense where Ford may as well be a traffic cone) yet unremarkable self, was enough to push TJ to the bench.  And the emergence of AJ Price has left him with not minutes at all.  Reports are that they’ve been trying to deal him since about 6 months after he came to Indiana, but with that contract ($8.5 million this year and next), the word being out on his game and his chronic back issues that could put him out for 40 games on any given fall, it’s going to be hard to move him. 

Two Points of Analysis from Jared Wade @ :

1)  AJ is now the most dynamic point guard on the team — as you may have noticed in the 3rd / 4th  quarters the other night. In part, that’s a big compliment to how well the rookie second-round pick has been playing.  But it’s also a big wag of the finger towards the other options O’Brien has on the bench.  Presuming the Pacers don’t make any trades, AJ will be starting by the end of the year.

2) Brandon Rush has taken his game to a new level. He’s been the team’s most effective and consistent 3-point shooter for the past 19 games, making 31-of-66 (47 percent). In the last five games, he has averaged 12.4 points and 4.2 rebounds and shot 66 percent from the field and 53 percent from the 3-point line.

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