Okay so we’re starting understand more and more about this Sixers team as the schedule continues to elapse. Recently, the 76ers haven’t had trouble taking care of teams their supposed to beat. New Jersey, Portland, Charlotte and Cleveland were all downed in Philadelphia by a new and improved 76er lineup.
Starting shooting guard Jodie Meeks has provided this once dead-team-walking an uplifting boost of energy and a barrage of three pointers. Forward Thaddeus Young, 22, is playing the best basketball of his career and even Spencer Hawes is emerging as a genuine big man who can compete with the bulk of the League’s centers.
The impending 10 games on the 76er schedule are going to be the most demanding part of the season. On tap are four back-to-back setups, a home contest against the Lakers and then the start of a 16 day, eight-game road trip, where the Sixers will visit Orlando, Chicago, Boston and Denver, along with a bevy of other Western cities and a revenge minded NOH team.
Philadelphia will be seeing super-stars on a regular basis for the rest of December. N ow it’s time we saw some improvement from our own heavy lifters. Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand haven’t scored 20 points in the same game since an October 29th loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Neither player has ever been regarded as an elite scoring option, but to overcome this brutal stretch on the schedule their going to have to become exactly that.
After the jump I breakdown the next 10 games on the Sixers schedule.
My Prediction: 76ers go 4-6 over the next ten games. This is based upon Jodie staying in the starting lineup and the Sixers incredible ability to protect the rock. In Philly’s seven wins they are averaging just 11 turnovers, ranking them number one in the NBA. Last year during the Christmas Holiday road trip, the Sixers snaked three of six out West. This year’s team is starting to peak right before and we could see a similar result.
Key Player: Jrue Holiday. The 20-year-old will be going up against Rondo, Chris Paul, Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, Derrick Rose, Chauncey Billups and Steve Nash. Following the conclusion of this stretch I’ll have a detailed look at how well he stood his ground.
Tuesday 12/14 – @ New Jersey Nets (6-15)
Strengths: Free Throw Percentage (11th), Coach Avery Johnson
Well, at this point last season the Nets were 1-20. So technically they are six times better now than they were at this point last season. Brook Lopez has scored over 23 points seven times, but only has two double-doubles this season. Avery Johnson recently mentioned that the lineup is going to see drastic changes. I expect more time from rookie forwards Damion James and Derrick Favors and also guard Terrence Williams.
Weaknesses: Scoring (28th), Steals (30th), Leadership
New Jersey is one of the sloppier teams in the NBA. You can get away with making mistakes against the Nets; they rarely are able to cash in on off nights from their opponents. The Sixers cruised for 36 fourth quarter points in the previous matchup on November 27th and Brook Lopez was still excellent in that game, scoring 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
Prediction: Philadelphia – 97 New Jersey – 90
To me, this win would mean so much more to the Sixer franchise than the Boston or New Orleans games. Has Philadelphia fully turned the page on the horrendous first 16 games of the season? The Nets are down lying in the mud after losing 11 out of their last 14. Are the Sixers going to give them a helping hand up, or kick a division rival while their down? My key player is Elton Brand whose jumper is going to draw Nets top rebounder Kris Humphries from the basket.
Wednesday 12/15 – L.A. Clippers (5-18)
Strengths: Rebounding (7th), Scoring in the Paint, Bright Future
Eric Gordon (24.3 ppg) and Blake Griffin (20 and 11.7 rebounds) are going to be future staple pieces for the United States Olympic Basketball team and the hopeful saviors of one of sports worst franchises ever. Even rookie Eric Bledsoe has plucked the starting role from once super-star Baron Davis, putting the Clippers youth movement in full effect.
Weaknesses: Three-Point Percentage (26th), No Veterans
Go and watch some of the Clippers highlights; they are up there with the Heat and Lakers as some of the most entertaining in the League. But that’s the problem: The Clippers aren’t doing the little NBA things right. Both offensively and defensively L.A. looks like they are playing an individual sport rather than as a team. And as beastly as Blake Griffin has been, he tends to pout when he doesn’t get fed the ball.
Prediction: Philadelphia – 110 L.A. Clippers – 106
Vinny Del Negro’s team has yet to win a game on the road. Doug Collins is going to let the Clippers try and beat his team by forcing deep two point shots. The Clips can out run Philly so look for our squad to slow down the tempo and get Andre Iguodala to the free throw line.
Friday December 17th – L.A. Lakers (16-6)
Strengths: Absolutely everything offensively, Coaching, Bench
I’d argue that Pau Gasol (20, 11.6 boards) has actually been the Lakers MVP 22 games into the season. The things he does underneath the basket expose 90 percent of teams in this League and will give the 76ers fits all evening. And this bench could be a very competitive starting unit in the Eastern Conference.
Weaknesses: Derek Fisher, Age
Fisher’s been protecting the ball well but he’s missed on many open reads for the Lakers. Fisher is Kobe’s best friend and one has to wonder if his prolonged time in the starting lineup is number 24’s decision or Phil Jackson’s. Over these upcoming 10 games this is probably Jrue Holiday’s most favorable matchup.
Prediction: L.A. Lakers – 115 Philadelphia – 101
The Lakers have given up over 100 points 11 times already this season. Fast breaking early in the game for the Sixers will be an effective strategy to try and tire the Lakers during their east coast road trip.
Saturday December 18th – @ Orlando Magic (15-6)
Strengths: Scoring Defense (1st), Field Goal Percentage (7th), Chemistry
I feel like there is absolutely zero buzz about this Magic team. It’s probably because they didn’t make any interesting off-season moves. Or maybe it’s because they actually play defense, an unusual topic in the NBA. Dwight Howard has vastly improved his approach on offense and is now rarely out of control. Orlando’s also owns a never ending supply of clutch shooters (Vince Carter, JJ Reddick, Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson). Orlando is 5-1 in games decided by five points or less.
Weaknesses: Assists (29th), Who is the Go-To-Guy?
Vince Carter should not be taking the last shot for this team anymore. He choked in the Eastern Finals last season against the Celtics and is past his prime of super-stardom. This team will be ready to win a title once Dwight Howard demands the basketball down the stretch, turning into a real version of the Incredible Hulk.
Prediction: Orlando – 92 Philadelphia – 81
The Magic are a terrible matchup for our 76ers. Three of their six losses though have been to struggling teams (Toronto, Milwaukee and Atlanta). If AI9 can somehow be the leading scorer on the night this one will be closer than I predict.
Tuesday December 21st – @ Chicago Bulls (12-8)
Strengths: Rebounding (3rd)
Maybe I’m alone, but I wasn’t expecting Derrick Rose to be fourth in the NBA in scoring. When Chicago needs a big bucket, Rose has delivered. The combination of Rose and Joakim Noah (12.3 rebounds) is the best point guard-center combination in the Eastern Conference.
Weaknesses: Passing, Opponents Field Goal Percentage (22nd), Turnovers (24th)
Defensively, Chicago is in the middle of the pack, which is surprising considering new head coach Tom Thibodeau was considered the mastermind behind the Celtics swarming defense. And the Bulls still aren’t sure what to expect from their collection of average guards. Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson have been second-rate and they’ll need to improve if Chicago is expecting a playoff run.
Prediction: Philadelphia – 97 Chicago – 95
Watch a Bulls game if you can before we play them. Notice all the cross-court lazy passes. Chicago has beaten itself in majority of their eight losses. The Bulls can’t afford to let the 76ers hang around and if Chicago doesn’t get off to a quick start, I really like our chances.
Wednesday 12/22 – @ Boston Celtics
Strengths: Field Goal Percentage (1st), Assists (1st), Experience
Um, they are the best team in the Eastern Conference. And when they are mostly healthy, I’d even argue they are more than poised to return to the NBA Finals, they’re ready to win the whole thing again. Boston has won 18 of 21 games and has scored 99 points in all but four of those games.
The Big Three for Boston aren’t even the scariest threesome in the East anymore thanks to ‘The Decision’. So how exactly has this team kept up their dominance? Rajon Rondo. Skeptics cry afoul about his lack of scoring (11 ppg) but Rondo has taken passing to a whole new level leading the league by far with 14.1 assists a game. Keeping four rather large egos content with their touches may be one of the hardest jobs in the NBA, but Rondo is doing it with ease and is on my early season MVP ballot.
Weakness: Rebounding (27th), Injuries
Kevin Garnett’s rebounding numbers are the highest they’ve been since his days in Minnesota, but everyone else needs to crash better. Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal and Rondo have already missed time in the Celtics 21 games.
Prediction: Boston – 94, Philadelphia – 85
With Shaq probably back in the lineup, this one will be much tougher. Unless Spencer Hawes goes off for 20 and 15 I don’t expect this one going in the Sixers favor. Hey, maybe I’ll ask Santa Clause for an early Christmas present.
Sunday 12/26 – @ Denver Nuggets
Strengths: Scoring Offense (6th), Balanced Attack, Star Power
Now in his fourth season, Aaron Afflalo (12.9 ppg) has made significant strides offensively and is a mainstay in the Nuggets starting lineup. Nene Hilario is leading the NBA in field goal percentage and his hustle is something the Sixers will have trouble controlling.
Weaknesses: Sheldon Williams, Defense
Williams has started every game for Nuggets and not only is his stat line pathetic but his small size for a big man should be easy for the 76ers to handle. Expect Elton Brand to have his best road game of the season against Denver.
Prediction: Denver – 122, Philadelphia – 119
Denver can beat you in multiple ways. Shooting (JR Smith and Chauncey Billups), Fast Breaking (Ty Lawson and ‘Birdman’ Anderson), Slashing (Al Harrington) or star-power in Carmelo Anthony.
Monday 12/27 – @ Golden State Warriors
Strengths: Assists (10th), Guard Play
The pace at which guards Steph Curry (20.1 ppg) and Monta Ellis (24.3 ppg) play at is relentless. Golden State is one of few teams that can outrun the Sixers and very well may feel inclined to do so. Small forward Dorrell Wright has been a pleasant surprise — 14.8 ppg, 6.1 rebounds. Both are better numbers than Iguodala is posting right now. Wright’s 6’9” frame will also clog the slashing lanes.
Weaknesses: Opponents Field Goal Percentage (22), Help Defense
As of December 13th, the Warriors have lost six a row and have allowed over 100 points in all but three games. David Lee isn’t getting nearly the amount of touches he was in Mike D’Antoni’s offense in New York. Though Steph Curry is playing effectively as a point guard, he is at his best when he’s launching three’s.
Prediction: Philadelphia – 89, Golden State – 87
If this turns into a 125-122 scoring track meet, the Sixers may be doomed. Doug Collins should slow this game down. I think Evan Turner matches up properly on the defensive end against Monta Ellis. Expect ET to see some extended minutes.
Wednesday 12/29 – @ Phoenix Suns
Strengths: Scoring (2nd), Assists (9th), Bench
There’s no denying the Phoenix Suns depth. Guys like Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley were influential in extending the Western Finals against the Lakers. Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress have added some nice energy themselves.
Weaknesses: Scoring Defense (last) Rebounding (28th), Age
The grind of the NBA may be taking its toll on Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Jason Richardson, all three of the Suns leading scorers. The Suns have had sloppy defensive losses to Charlotte, Memphis and Portland. And Channing Frye, the Suns center who only stands by the three point line, leads the team in rebounds with a stingy number of 5.8
Prediction: Phoenix – 117, Philadelphia – 103
This is a winnable game for us but I think the excess of the road trip will start running its course on the inexperienced Sixers.
Friday 12/31 – @Los Angeles Lakers
Prediction: Los Angeles – 119 Philadelphia – 96
Monday 01/03 – @ New Orelans Hornets
Prediction: In the final run of the 8-game road trip, a weary Sixers team get taken to the cleaners by a NOH squad that is out for revenge because of the 20 point drubbing they received in Philly during mid-December. CP3 hits for 40 and the Hornets win 100- 84.