This Tuesday 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 Danny Granger and the currently struggling Indiana Pacers as well as a glimpse at the keys to a successful 3 game homestand. 

Tonight’s contest against the Pacers begins the first home stand since December 4th – December 12th, where the Sixers went 3-1; the lone loss coming in tearjerker fashion against the Celtics on TNT.  The three wins during that span came against staggering opponents (Charlotte, Cleveland and New Orleans). The Sixers find themselves in an eerily familiar situation as they take on the Pacers, Bucks and Bobcats over the next six days.

Calling games in mid-January “must win” is a little over the top.  So instead I like to call these games “Stock Market Games.”  Starting with a W tonight over the sinking Pacers, the 76ers have a chance to rise up to 18-22 inching closer towards the gap the Knicks have created at the six seed with MVP candidate Amare Stoudemire.  Or starting with a loss tonight, the Sixers could potentially tumble out of the playoff picture and rumors regarding trades will intensify among the disgruntled and outspoken pocket of the fan base.

Four things critical to the Sixers game tonight and this home stand :

1st quarter starts: In 11 of Philadelphia’s 15 wins, the team has tied or outscored its opponent in the first quarter.  The team is averaging 26.9 points in wins and 21.5 points in the 22 losses. Five times the Sixers have scored over the 30 point mark.  Doug Collins loves giving Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks the keys to the offense and setting up high-tempo plays and quick shots early on.

Winning a close game:The closest win the Sixers have had this season was a 5-pointer against New Jersey.  The Nets made things seem closer with those stupid late-game free throws that irritate every NBA fan. The Denver win was more of a Nugget collapse than a Sixer rising.

Using the New York Jets theory, it will be more beneficial for the Sixers to bang out close wins at home rather than blowing out a team, because this team had already done that against the Pacers, Bobcats and Bucks.  I’d like to see the Sixers struggle in a game, overcome it in the fourth quarter with some clutch shots and passionate defense. It’s impossible to replicate what a locker room feels like after a close win in front of your home fans. That kind of morale could boost a team on the brink.

Decide who will take over: Jrue Holiday has averaged 20.8 points in his last five games, something Iguodala and Elton Brand now seem incapable of doing.  Iggy is going to be rusty with the ball during this home stand.  He should be relegated more to a point forward spot to ease him back into the swing of things.  The offense should be more tailored towards Holiday working off the ball and getting towards the hoop.  The ideal starting five in crunch time should be.

Holiday-Williams-Iguodala-Young-Brand.  Although it’s small, it’s aggressive.  Hawes and Meeks can be rotated in on a situational basis.

Evan TurnerBasketball-Reference has ranked Evan Turner as the best rookie defender in the league.  And he can rebound.  With the ball Turner is no longer dreadful, but he’s still pretty bad at decision making and he can’t find his way the bucket.  The ET dilemma is costing minutes for Meeks, Lou Williams and now will get even tougher with AI9 back.  I think Collins should scale back Turners responsibilities over the next several games.

The new season starts tonight against the Pacers, who are 5-13 in the last 18, 1-6 in their last 7 and 1-9 in their last 10 on the road.   The Sixers must prevail tonight for numeorous reasons, not least among them is the idea that the final East playoff seeds are expected to come down to these two teams and it would be nice to own the tie-breaker. 

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 have lost 6 of their last 7 and when we last met back in early November, Philly hit the Pacers with a 26-point blowout at home.  So how do you see this game playing out tonight?

Jared Wade@ : The Pacers have to win this.  I know the game is in Philly, but it is desperate times in Indiana right now.  They understandably lost their last two to the Spurs (who they should have beat) and Hawks (who destroy them every time they play), and they will almost certainly lose their next two to the Mavericks and the Bulls.  It’s unfortunate that this tough stretch of schedule has coincided with their worst play of the year, but if they want to have any hope of turning around this season before the All-Star break, they are not going to be able to cough up winnable games like the one tonight. So, perhaps it is foolish — well, definitely it’s foolish considering their recent play — but I think the Pacers pull one out tonight.

Philadunkia :  We’re big fans of Danny Granger’s game and think he is one of the truly underrated players in the League.  You get to see him play daily, so what areas of his game would you like to see this rising star improve on?

Jared Wade@ : His shot selection is questionable.  The team’s offense is so bad that it’s easy to understand why he launches so many long jumpers out of frustration (or perhaps simply because he finds it unlikely the team will get a better look on the possession anyway) but it’s just not good basketball.  He is a career 44.3% shooter who is currently shooting 41.8% for the year.  That’s just unacceptable — for anyone really, but especially for a guy with Danny’s dead-eye accuracy.  He hasn’t become a worse shooter, of course; he is simply not getting as many good looks as he has in the past.  And it’s as much his fault as it is that of the terrible offense Indy runs.  He also struggles to stay engaged on defense on every possession. And he swipes at the ball too much when he should just be playing good, straight-up, positional defense.  At this point, however, I don’t he ever breaks those bad habits on the end of the floor he clearly cares less about.

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)  How rough has it been going for the Pacers lately – very rough.  Look at this recent quote from Mike Dunleavy, Jr.  “We’re really not playing well right now,” Dunleavy said.  “We just have no flow on offense right now.  It can’t be a whole lot of fun to watch us right now.”

2) Roy Hibbert is a horrible basketball player right now.  He’s well aware of this and is going to see a sports psychologist to talk about it.

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