03/01/11 10:42 am EST
The Sixers sent no players to the All-Star game. Just Jrue Holiday to the Rookie-Sophomore challenge game. However, this team still sits in playoff contention without a go-to superstar. All thanks to head coach Dough Collins preaching a philosophy of team unity.
Now that the All-Star break has come to a close and we’ve won four straight out of the gates, it’s time for the Sixers to continue their ploy for the postseason. Looking ahead at the next slate of 10 opponents, we have seven contests that are winnable. The tougher games will be played at the Wells-Fargo Center against the Mavericks, Thunder and Celtics. And the last four contests will be on the road against teams we’re capable of beating.
Let’s take a look at the upcoming challengers as we try to jump the New York Knicks as the sixth seed in the East.
vs. Dallas Mavericks
The question here is who takes on the daunting task of guarding the seven-foot forward Dirk Nowitzki. Elton Brand can’t check him, and Thaddeus Young has ideal length and versatility to try but is poor defender. Dirk is a MVP candidate this season uplifting the Mavericks to a 35-16 standing. Without Dirk, the team is a pitiful 2-7.
Player to Watch: Shooting Guard Jason Terry
The undersized shooting guard has hit big shots in the final quarter. If you leave him open, he’ll make you pay from the three-point range. He’s averaging 15.9 points per game and 4.3 assists. Terry has been the go-to perimeter scorer since the loss of Caron Butler for the season.
X-factor: Center Tyson Chandler
Chandler has been one of the most under-valued signings from this past offseason. His presence in the paint as a defender alters games. The Mavericks have tremendously benefited on the defensive side of the ball thanks to his quality play. Tyson is leading the team in rebounds with 9.4 a game while tallying 10.5 points as well.
vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
The second lowest record in the NBA and statistically the worst defensive team giving up 107.9 points per game. We took care of business in Minnesota a week before All-Star festivities, defeating the Timberwolves by 20.
Player to Watch: Power Forward Kevin Love
Love is in a class situation. A player extremely talented, but stuck with a franchise that has a dud running the show — General Manager David Kahn. Love just made an appearance in his first all-star game and heading into the weekend had amassed 42 consecutive double-doubles. Love also leads the league in rebounds at 15.5. It’s a crying shame he’s wasting seasons for a pitiful squad in Minnesota.
X-factor: Point Guard Luke Ridnour
Ridnour is having a quiet and effective season averaging 11.9 points and 5.6 assists per game. He also leads the team in three point shooting hitting on 43.7%. Ridnour will struggle to keep up with the electrifying Jrue Holiday.
vs. Golden State Warriors
On our dreadful road trip in late December the Warriors lit us up 110-95. The key that game for the Warriors was hitting fifteen field goals from long distance. The Sixers defensive rotations on the night failed miserably around the perimeter. Three players for the Warriors totaled over 20 points including Monta Ellis, David Lee and Dorell Wright.
Player to watch: Guard Monta Ellis
Fifth in the league in scoring with 25.3 a game, Monta is arguably the most underrated player in the NBA. He sits behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Amare Stoudemire for the scoring title yet isn’t rewarded as an All-Star. Last time he took on the Sixers he ignited his team with 22 points and 12 assists.
X-factor: Small Forward Dorrell Wright
Do not leave him open. He can light it up from deep if he catches on fire. Last time we played the Warriors, Wright led his team in scoring with 28 points and five three point field goals made. Wright averages 2.5 deep field goals a game and is constantly a threat to go off.
@ Indiana Pacers
This will be the fourth and final time these two squads meet. The Pacers have stolen two of the first three contest. This game will be ultra-important for both teams as their fighting for the bottom seeds in the playoffs. The Pacers parted ways with coach Jim O’Brien, but have played inspired under Frank Vogel winning seven of the last 10.
Player to Watch: Small Forward Danny Granger
Granger leads the team both in scoring and minutes played. His style of play can be erratic at times but just like most prolific scorers you have to throw your best defender his way. Andre Iguodala will have that daunting task of containing him.
X-factor: Center Roy Hibbert
As Sixers fans we must face it, our interior defense is not good. A guy like Hibbert — standing 7-feet 2-inches tall — can be pestering to defend. The key with Hibbert is to play physical. Ever since his days at Georgetown he’s shied away from contact and deferred to attack the rim by dishing it out to teammates.
vs. Oklahoma City
We play ten different opponents during this stretch, of all the games, the Thunder matchup is the most important. Yes, they are in opposite conferences and only face each other twice a season, but this game will be used as a measuring stick for the Sixers. Two up-and-coming young rosters with their glory years ahead of them. The Thunder are creeping up to elite status, while the Sixers have been clawing to become relevant.
Player to Watch: Forward Kevin Durant
Keep tabs on Andre Iguodala on this night. It’ll be his responsibility to slow down the NBA’s leading scorer who went off for 31 points the last time these teams met. 16 of his 31 came from the free throw line, something Durant does a stout job of.
X-factor: Point Guard Russell Westbrook
In the best point guard in the league discussion along with D-Rose, CP3 and D-Will. Westbrook has a hand in everything averaging 22.2 points, 5 rebounds, 8.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game. His athleticism is second to none and he makes gravitating plays at the rim.
The Eastern Conference defending champs have narrowly escaped with a pair of victories over the Sixers for a combined five points. They feature four All-Stars on their roster and a handful of potential hall of famers. They still have two showdowns remaining on the schedule and the first will be in Philadelphia.
Players to Watch: Point Guard Rajon Rondo
Leading the league in assists, Rondo has benefited from team chemistry and an elite supporting cast. At the end of games, opposing teams constantly make him shoot midrange jumpers which he struggles to hit. Keeping Rondo away from the rim will be a crucial part to the Sixers game plan.
X-factor: Shooting Guard Ray Allen
The greatest three point shooter of all-time and in our two appearances against the Celtics, he lit us up for a combined 45 points and 15 three-pointers. This is the one guy in the League that you cannot, and I repeat, CANNOT leave open.
The first times they met the Sixers came out on top with a 90-79 win at the Wells-Fargo Center. The Bucks were in the postseason last year but their chances of returning are looking slim at the moment. At 21-34, having lost eight of the last ten, the Bucks will likely not be in the postseason hunt come April.
Player to Watch: Center Andrew Bogut
The best defensive center behind Dwight Howard, he’s averaging a league leading 2.85 blocks per game. Bogut has also tallied 12.9 points and 11.5 rebounds. His scoring is down from last season three points thanks to attempting less field goals.
X-factor: Point Guard Brandon Jennings
Jennings has been inconsistent and at times a ball hog. After his 55 point barrage as a rookie against the Golden State Warriors, he’s been a tad overrated and swallowed in the small market of Milwaukee. Jennings career field goal percentage is 37.2. Ouch, not the most efficient stat you want for your starting point guard.
Saying goodbye to their franchise star Deron Williams and legendary head coach Jerry Sloan in most cases spells for a recipe of disaster. Instead, the Jazz are still fighting for the playoff eight seed at 32-28. Playing in Utah will be a daunting task where their fans always seem excited for any opponent.
Players to Watch: Center Al Jefferson
With Deron Williams’ departure via trade, Al Jefferson inherits the team leading scoring title and also leads in rebounds. We’ve had trouble against seven-footers all season long and he forms a great down-low duo with Paul Milsap. Spencer Hawes and Marreese Speights must bring their A-game defensively to relieve pressure from the seasoned Elton Brand.
X-factor: Point Guard Devin Harris
In only his second game with the Jazz (included in the Deron Williams trade) Harris had an impressive tally with 17 points and 12 assists in a losing effort at Detroit. Harris is a good point guard — not great — and his time in New Jersey is blemished thanks to his horrendous 70 loss season a year ago. However, some believe he still can lead a contending team.
@ Los Angeles Clippers
When you look at up-and-coming teams with a bright future in the NBA, the Clippers — despite their horrendous history — automatically are mentioned. With young superstar Blake Griffin and a scoring stud in Eric Gordon (24.1 point per game) the city of Los Angeles has a new franchise worth the price of admission. They’ve already made their trip to Philadelphia where the Sixers came out on top 105-91.
Player to Watch: Forward Blake Griffin
The ultimate highlight reel and prized child of the NBA, Griffin has wowed us many times this season. His incredible strength and leaping ability never fail to amaze his home crowd. Blake Griffin is averaging 22.8 points and 12.5 rebounds a game in his rookie campaign. The key to stopping him for the 7-6 will be making him hit mid-range jump shots and keeping him away from the paint.
X-factor: Shooting Guard Eric Gordon
The former Indiana guard has a knack for putting the ball in the hoop. This season has been a career year for Gordon averaging 24.1 points per game. With TEAM USA basketball this summer for the World Championship, Gordon flashed times of excellence that have carried onto the court this season.
@ Sacramento Kings
The Kings currently have the third worst record in the league. Rumors have speculated that the team will be loving Sacramento and heading southward for Anaheim where a new stadium will be built. Rookie DeMarcus Cousins, with his excellent talent, has also been a headache and recently fought teammate Donte Greene. Head Coach Paul Westphal in his second season has endured a very stressful situation with some sticky characters on his roster. The Kings are a mess.
Player to Watch: Guard Tyreke Evans
Leads the team in scoring and assists but has gone through a sophomore slump season. His field goal percentage, points, assists and rebounds are all down from his rookie year. With that being said the Sixers still must keep tabs on the versatile guard.
X-factor: Center DeMarcus Cousins
Cousins is regarded as one of the biggest headaches in the NBA with an undeniable amount of skill. His rare size at 6-11, 270 pounds comes with a scary amount of athleticism. Cousins finishes around the rim well, is a good rebounder, good shot blocker and very difficult to contain in the post. He’s been furious this season because of the Kings losing ways but when he puts his mind to it, Cousins is difficult to contain for any team.