Seventy-seven down, five to go. The lengthy journey which has provided many thrills and good fortune has taken a sour turn at an unfortunate time. The injury bug finally bit the Sixers in strong fashion with news arising that Lou Williams will be out indefinitely because of a strained hammy.
Obviously losing our Sixth Man of the Year candidate who has played well this season — averaging 13.7 points per game while constantly hitting big shots — will hurt. Replacing his roster spot is NBA journeyman, and current NBA D-Leaguer, Antonio Daniels. Daniels, who is 36 and last played in the League in 2009, joins the 7-6 on a 10-day contract.
These final five games now become even more pivotal as the Sixers not only need to end on a strong note, but also must figure out how to cope without Williams’ skills for the “foreseeable future”.
Preview of the final five regular games in 2010-11 after the jump.
@ Boston Celtics
Games between the 7-6 and Gang Green have been highly entertaining in the season series. In three matches thus far, the Sixers have stolen a victory while losing two by a combined five points. Since the game will be in Boston, it’s certain the Celtics will be heavy favorites to come out on top. The Sixers have kept it close all season and will rely on defense and attacking the rim to overcome the defending Eastern Conference champs.
Still much to be figured out with less than two weeks, but if the season ended today these teams would face each other in the opening round.
Player To Watch: PG Rajon Rondo
For a guard who is continuously dared to shoot mid-range jumpers while defenders give him four feet of space, Rondo is still extremely effective. Despite his lack of a jump shot, he makes up for it with excellent ball-handling skills and an ability to find open teammates averaging 11.3 assists per game. We’ll also have to keep him off the glass, Rondo is known to grab offensive boards in critical moments.
X-Factor: F Jeff Green
Formerly a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Green was sent to Boston in a trade that included fan-favorite center Kendrick Perkins. Perkins was the last line of defense that solidified the Celtics’ team. With Perkins in the paint, opponents where intimidated to attack the rim in fear of being physically punished by the seven-footer. With Perkins out, Green adds depth and scoring at the small forward position behind Paul Pierce while sacrificing defending the paint.
vs. New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire have embraced the attention and glamour of the ‘never sleep’ New York City. With the magnified recognition, comes ridicule and analysis for every breathe taken by the pair. When the club went on a ten game stretch which included nine losses, worried fans panicked throughout Madison Square Garden as our Sixers captured the sixth seed. In three Carmelo-less games, the Sixers have won a pair. How they fare against a completely refurnished Knicks’ team has yet to be seen.
Player To Watch: SF Carmelo Anthony
Donning the blue and orange, the former Nugget has averaged 26.3 points a contest on 45.8 percent from the field. Scoring has never been an issue for ‘Melo who has constantly been able to put the ball in the bucket at an elite level. But the major concern has always come from his lackluster effort on defense. It’ll be critical that the Sixers attack Anthony on offense and take advantage of his careless antics.
X-factor: PG Chauncey Billups
When four of six starters were shipped for Anthony right before the trade deadline, few highlighted the importance that ‘big-shot’ Chauncey would serve. The veteran point guard has been a significant piece to what remains of a thin roster. Billups’ 18.4 points and 5.4 assists a game reflect the importance of his contribution. Anthony and Stoudemire desperately need assistance from the NBA Champion guard to have any chance of advancing in the playoffs.
vs. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are mathematically eliminated from postseason contention with their eyes set on a watered-down draft class featuring bland lottery prospects. In late January, the 76ers manhandled the Raptors on the road 107-94 despite 29 points from sophomore DeMar DeRozan. The division rival series for the season is 2-1 in favor of the Canadian club. Their two wins were over the forgotten Sixers group that slugged its way to a 3-13 start.
Player To Watch: SG DeMar DeRozan
DeMar has improved in his second year averaging 16.7 points per game which nearly doubles his 8.6 mark set as a rookie. The high-flying shooting guard displays tremendous ability around the rim and in fast-break situations. It’ll be up to AI9 to force him to take outside jumpers.
X-factor: PG Jerryd Bayless
Usual starter Jose Calderon is battling a tight hamstring injury that might hold him out of this one. If Calderon is absent, Bayless fills in as the lead point guard. Bayless began the season on the New Orleans Hornets roster before being traded up North in a deal that included Jarrett Jack. In 53 appearances as a Raptor, Bayless has put up 8.4 points and 3.8 assists with only eight starts.
vs. Orlando Magic
Our most daunting single matchup problem of these final five games comes from the Magic and center Dwight Howard. Howard exposes are biggest weakness which is post defense and containing big physical players like himself. Surrounding Dwight are several shooters including Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick.
Player To Watch: C Dwight Howard
Behind Derrick Rose (consensus MVP), Dwight may be next in line to capture the NBA’s most prestigious individual trophy. His 23.1 points and 14.2 rebounds per game contributes to 63 double-doubles and has the Magic nearly-locked into the Eastern fourth seed. The Sixers best hope is forcing the big man into foul trouble and out of the contest. Keeping him off the glass will be a challenge too, he averages 4.1 offensive rebounds a night.
X-factor: PG Jameer Nelson
Jrue Holiday has had problems containing the strong and tough Orlando ball-handler. In three games against Philadelphia, Nelson has averaged 15 points, 8.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds. Jameer has an effective pull-up jumper and leads his team in assists. He will also not shy away from a big shot in the closing minutes.
vs. Detroit Pistons
Ending the year with four straight home games and a final showdown against a weakened Pistons’ team is a blessing. This will be a great opportunity for any last minute necessary tune-ups, potentially some much needed rest for a veteran starter (cough, cough: Elton Brand) and another opportunity to figure out the void left from Lou Williams’ absence. With all that being said, that’s under the basis that we’ll have our playoff spot locked up and guaranteed.
Player To Watch: PG Rodney Stuckey
Leading in points and assists for the Pistons, it hasn’t been a necessarily pleasant season for the starting guard. Stuckey and head coach John Kuester butted heads when the guard refused to enter the game in the fourth quarter against the Bulls. He was benched the entire game against the Celtics for his doing. Not the first time a player and their head coach got into a dispute.
X-factor: C Greg Monroe
The rookie is a polished player whose put together a promising campaign averaging nine points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Monroe fell to 7ththis past NBA Draft as the Sixers ignored his skill set despite a dire need for a quality big men.