This 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 76ersopponents — features tonight’s opponent, the struggling Indiana Pacers.

We’re really torn as to which way this game will go tonight.  In our hearts we believe the rising Sixers should win in Indiana tonight against a Pacers team that has dropped 7 of their last 10 (including three straight) and is clinging to the 8th and final playoff spot in the East.  However our collective basketball minds tell us this could be a tough game for the Sixers to win for a number of reasons.

The first is that this is a classic NBA “trap game”.  The Sixers are coming off an ugly OT win over the GSW on Sunday night and up ahead on the schedule is a “big” Wednesday evening game at home vs. the OKC Thunder that has the whole city buzzing followed by another “big” game vs. Boston.  So a road contest against the lowly Pacers that is the first in a set of back-to-back games may not have the 7-6’s full attention tonight. 

That would be unfortunate, as the Pacers present some match-up problems for the Sixers that will require a 100% effort out of Doug Collins’ troops.  Specifically we’re talking about Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Foster down low and Danny Granger on the perimeter.  Hibbert, Hanbrough and Foster are bigs who can bang and score.  As we all know that is something that gives the Sixers a lot of trouble.  Granger had 27 in the last meeting between the two teams and scored at will.  Iguodala was still basically on IR with his Achilles issue in that game, so it will be interesting to see if he can score at will again tonight.

To be honest the another reason this game concerns our basketball minds is that the Sixers have not played that well in their last three games.  They did not play great vs. Dallas and in fact looked absolutely horrible in the 4th quarter of that game.  Then against Minnesota, they were able to recover from a very slow start to gain an ugly win against a terrible Wolves team.  Finally, on Sunday the Sixers blew an 18-point lead first half lead and played sloppily for two plus quarters, but rallied for a suspect OT win over the GSW.  So were thinking the Sixers have been hanging by a thread recently and could be due for what is known in the NBA as an “implosion game”.

Also of note in our minds is the fact that Indiana has won two of three in 2010-11 against the 76ers.  Again, included in that stretch was a 111-103 win back on January 9th in which Iguodala was just returning from his Achilles hiatus.  Dre only scored 1 point in that game, so one could put an asterisk next to that Indy victory.  But it is worth noting that Sixers have trouble with Indiana

Lastly, the Sixers who during their upswing have been improved on the road (6-2 in their last eight games) are still 11-20 on the road overall, have lost three of four and six of their last nine at Conseco Fieldhouse.  So we got that going for us which is nice.

In short, we don’t like the Sixers chances of a W tonight, but as always we hope and pray we are wrong.

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 :  We were reading your and it seems you guys are not happy withthe play of the Pacers of late. You even went as far as to label the team “Unwatchable”. So what seems to be the main issue or two withthe Pacers right now?

Tim Donahue @ : It’s all too tempting to delve into amateur psychoanalysis to explain what’s happening withthe Pacers, but there’s a large degree of silliness (on my part) down that path.  Instead, keeping it simple, the big problem for the Pacers right now are point guard play and defense.  Collison plays a large role in both.

Offensively, DC is only shooting 36% over the last dozen games, and he’s not creating a lot of offense for others.  New coach Frank Vogel simplified the offense, moving from O’Brien’s motion offense to more traditional sets, but that has begun to bog down itself.  The Pacers are much better when they push the tempo, but they’ve struggled to do that because they havenot been controlling the defensiveglass lately or creating turnovers.  Collison’s struggles are further exacerbated by the fact that the Pacers lack any bigs who are competent in the pick-n-roll/pick-n-pop game that is Darren’s life blood.

At the other end, Collison is an absolute target in PnR’s.  He’s small and weak, so he struggles to (a) bump the ballhandler off the screen and (b) fight over the screen.  As a result, he always gets stopped, which starts the defensive rotations.  Unfortunately, the rotations are atrocious.  Neither of the centers – Roy Hibbert or Jeff Foster – are capable of aggressively showing on the PnR, and the rest of the team does a really poor job of maintaining awareness of both the man and the ball.

O’Brien’s system – which was working earlier in the year – is predicated on protecting the rim, playing “tied together,” and making sound rotations.  Right now, there’s no real trust among the players, so the rotations are slow and sloppy – if not non-existent.  From a personnel standpoint, the defense misses T.J. Ford, who did a good job of pressuring the opposing point guard and slowing down the opponent’s attack, and Mike Dunleavy, who gave excellent weakside help and rotations.

This team simply doesn’t have enough talent to lock down guys one-on-one, so they have to play team defense.  Besides, it’s always been my opinion that the best defenses were systemic, not individual.  Right now, nothing’s working there, and the Pacers are getting exploited

Philadunkia :  We’ve noticed that the Pacers are getting excellent play out of their bench under new coach Frank Vogel. What has been the key to that unit’s surge?

Tim Donahue @ :  The problem that the Pacers have as a team is top end talent, not depth.  They have a collection of guys that mostly would fit between third and seventh or eighth on good teams.  As a result, there isn’t a huge drop off from starters to bench, and that is to their advantage. 

The self-named “Goon Squad” (A.J. Price, Paul George, Dahntay Jones, Tyler Hansbrough, and Jeff Foster) have coalesced into a solid unit that is tough to play against.  Price, Hansbrough, and Jones are all “scramblers,” and they do well when things break down.  We believe that Paul George is going to be something special, and Jeff Foster is just a pro’s pro.  Foster, Hansbrough, and Jones make it, ummm, unpleasant for the other team, and I think all of those things work in their favor when playing against second unit players.

Lance Stephenson has been recently added to the mix, and he’s a player that shows great flashes of talent, but it’s unclear as to how he fits yet.

Two Points of Analysisfrom Tim Donahue @ :

1)  The big topic of discussion concerning the Pacers today is some locker room fireworks that occurred after the Houston loss Saturday night.   The Pacersjust completed a tough three game road trip against Oklahoma City, Dallas, and Houston.  They lost all three, and were only competitive in the middle game at Dallas.  Vets Dahntay Jones and Jeff Foster openly expressed anger/frustration on the floor, and apparently, there was a shouting match in the locker room after the game.

Pacer beat reporter Mike Wells of the Indy Star reports that much of the conflict was about defensive rotations and displeasure over (a) Lance Stephenson’s minutes and (b) the way Lance Stephenson played.  Stephenson was the 40th player taken, and he came with baggage.  A top high school talent, he fizzled at Cincinnati and had some legal difficulties  – he was charged with throwing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs this summer, though those charges were recently dropped.

Wells acknowledged Stephenson’s talent, but said that he (Lance) had a lot of growing up to do.  Stephenson is only 20, but Wells said he acted more like 15 or 16, and that the vets were very frustrated with his “know-it-all” attitude.  He also contrasted Stephenson with the Pacers’ other rookie, Paul George, who Wells described as “the perfect rookie.”

But beyond any issues with Stephenson, Wells intimated that there was zero veteran leadership in the locker room.  This comes as little surprise to those who haveobserved this team over the last few years, but it’s still harsh to hear.  Danny Granger is too passive, Roy Hibbert too weak, and Darren Collison is too new and too young.

All of this under the regime of a 36-year old coach with zero head coaching experience.  O’Brien, who you probably know pretty well from Philly, was a harsh taskmaster, lord of all he surveyed.  The team had tired of that, and collapsed in December and January.  Vogel is everybody’s pal, and it remains to be seen how he will deal with the harder issues that every coach has to face.

Longer term, the lack of a clear locker room leader greatly inhibits the success of either Frank Vogel or any coach who replaces him.  There have to be playersin the room that will keep the others in line and carry the water for their coach.  Otherwise, the coach is either forced to be a dictator or a doormat.

2) The Pacers will be pointing hard at this game.  The Sixers have been playing great, but it’s at Conseco, and it kicks off a three-game stretch that the Pacers and their fans feel are “should win” games.  After hosting Philly, they’ll go on the road to Minnesota and Toronto.

There will be a lot of pressure on the Pacerstonight, and a slow start could be problematic for them.  As noted above, the team psyche is somewhat fragile, and there’s not a significant talent advantage (for either team), so it’s an opportunity for the Sixers.

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