The 76ers come out of the All-Star Break in the midst of a 5 game skid in which they have averaged just over 83 ppg. and shown an inability to do much offensively, while also showing some rare defensive lapses. The recent swoon begs the question: Which team is this? The one that got off to an 18-7 start following a big comeback win against the Lakers, or the one that has dropped the last five?
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Injuries to the front-line have hindered the team as of late, as well as Doug Collins’ sometimes confounding lineups. Among all of this concern and the Knicks becoming the darling of the Atlantic Division, the 76ers do after all enter the second half of the 2011-12 season at 20-14 with a 3 ½ game lead in the Atlantic while leading the League in Defensive Efficiency and posting the third best point differential in the entire NBA.
They have lost a fair number of close games, which although frustrating, is something that can easily improve in the Sixers’ favor with some good fortune. Among all of this turmoil, the team stands on pace for roughly 40 wins despite missing one of its most critical players in Spencer Hawes for much of the season. The mere fact that the team has lost 5 straight serving as a cause for concern is actually quite refreshing when considering the team’s recent history.
Nonetheless, when will they turn it around? Further, what can we constitute as “turning it around?” Does Doug Collins need to consider starting Vucevic and finally give Turner steadier minutes? The post-ASB stretch for the 7-6 does not appear immediately favorable, similar to the 7 game “death row” gauntlet from earlier this year. 6-4 or 5-5 may be genuinely the most favorable outcomes for the team in their next 10. Without further ado, let’s look ahead.
Tuesday February 28th– @ Detroit Pistons. Prediction: Win (1-0)
This should be a shoo-in win for the 76ers. In fact, don’t be surprised if this game is a blowout. Besides Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey, the Pistons are not a good team whatsoever. They are the 27th best team in terms of offensive efficiency facing arguably the best defensive team in the NBA. If there is any game in the next 10 to feel confident about, it should be this one. The 76ers have beaten the Pistons by over 20 points in both meetings, one with Hawes and one without, so they should surely be fine, even on the road.
Wednesday February 29th, Oklahoma City Thunder. Prediction: Loss (1-1)
Following an almost for sure win against the hapless Pistons comes a very difficult matchup against the Thunder. If there is anything we can count on the 76ers to win in this game, it’s the turnover battle. The Thunder lead the NBA in TOs, while the 76ers notably rarely turn the ball over. What does this mean for the overall game? Unfortunately, probably not a whole lot. The Thunder convert offensively at an incredibly efficient clip, only behindMiamiin that regard. This is a home game, and anything can happen, but the Thunder are arguably the West’s best team. Look for the free throw discrepancy in this game- the Thunder are one of the best in the league at getting to the line, while the Sixers get to the line a league worst 18.8 times per game. If the Sixers can keep this gap small, they may have a shot.
Friday March 2nd, Golden State Warriors. Prediction: Win (2-1)
The 76ers face another team they took care of quite easily this season, although the Warriors were missing shot-hungry Monta Ellis. Like the Thunder, the Warriors are pretty good offensively, but unlike the Thunder (and the 76ers for that matter), they’re not very interested in defense. When he’s on Monta Ellis can light up the scoreboard, but the 76ers match up pretty well against him defensively. While the Warriors can certainly beat any team in the NBA any given night, as they showed in wins against LA and Miami this season, the 76ers should be able to take care of them at the Wells Fargo Center.
Sunday March 4th, Chicago Bulls. Prediction: Win (3-1)
Is this a homer pick? Absolutely it is. Although the Bulls will have Luol Deng back for this game, this is a game the 76ers can win. It’s a home game, which should help keep the FT disparity close, and will likely be played at a pace the 76ers are comfortable with. The Bulls are a great offensive rebounding team, but didn’t show that against the Sixers in the first matchup even as they trotted out Tony Battie in the starting lineup. The Bulls probably aren’t going to destroy the Sixers with the 3 ball, and look for the defense to force Derrick Rose into another frustrating game.
Monday March 5th, @ Milwaukee Bucks. Prediction: Win (4-1)
Wait, I’m picking the Sixers to win 4 of 5 following the break? Actually, yes. In their first matchup at theWFC, the only Buck to really hurt the 76ers is the now injured Andrew Bogut. The Bucks have shown they can beat Miami more than once, but the 76ers realistically shouldn’t have a lot of trouble winning this one. Milwaukee isn’t an especially strong offense or defensive team, and granted the Sixers show up to play (which I believe they will), they should be able to take this.
Wednesday March 7th, Boston Celtics. Prediction: Loss (4-2)
It seems a bit strange that these two teams aren’t facing off until March 7th,, but this is truly their first Celtics game of the season. Anyone following the Celtics as of late has probably noticed that these are now the Celtics of old, but more like the old Celtics. They have been brutal and plodding offensively, and look like their window has definitively closed. Nonetheless, this will be a tough matchup for the 76ers. The Sixers have an excellent chance of winning this game, but I just get the ominous feeling that something bad will happen. Maybe I’m looking too much into last year’s results, but it seems like this will be a game we look back as one of those games where the offense looks disorganized and nobody can really get it going.
Friday March 9th, Utah Jazz. Prediction: Win (5-2)
The 76ers lost a tough one in Salt Lake City in these teams’ first matchup, so look for them to avenge that loss at the Wells Fargo Center. The Jazz are pretty close to on-par with the 76ers offensively, but the Sixers are the far superior defensive team. Their frontline of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap certainly could end up giving the Sixers troubles, but their wing and guard play is rather weak. The Jazz aren’t a bad team, but they aren’t a good team either, and one the 76ers should handle.
Sunday March 11th, @ New York Knick. Prediction: Win (6-2)
The Sixers travel to the world of bad puns and Harvard basketball players in this matinee game televised on NBATV (c’mon, why isn’t this on ABC?). Unlike the Sixers, the Knicks have surged right before the All Star break thanks to the emergence of a certain Jeremy Lin, and only trail the 76ers by 3 ½ games. Forgotten in this recent streak is that the Knicks beat a lot of poor teams, an accusation thrown at the Sixers, but the Sixers have a far superior record to the Knicks. Hopefully by this matchup, the New York media will be up in arms about how Carmelo can’t mesh with the rest of the team, and Lin will start to look more like how he played against the Heat when his nerves got the best of him. The Knicks are a decent team, but not nearly as good as they get credit for. Despite their reputation for having ‘offensive firepower’, their defense is really what has carried them. The Sixers are clearly a superior defensive team, and look for them to display that at the second most historic basketball arena.
Wednesday March 14th, @ Indiana Pacers. Prediction: Loss (6-3)
The Sixers were able to beat the Pacers with relative ease earlier in the year, but the Pacers are a good team with some strong rebounding. If Spencer Hawes is back by this game, the Sixers’ chances for a win go up, but without him, it’s going to be a tough game. This is, like most games, winnable, but road games against good teams are tough. If the Pacers control the offensive boards, this could be a long night. At the same time, if the Sixers can neutralize Hibbert and West, they have a great chance at winning this game. This could end up being a pivotal game in really seeing what kind of the team the Sixers are: definitively in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, or really towards the middle.
Friday March 16th, Miami Heat. Prediction: Loss (6-4)
I won’t waste too many words on this one. The 76ers have faced the team twice this season, and have lost handily both times. The Heat are a better team, and match up well. This is going to be a tough game for the Sixers, and it’s difficult to see them pulling through in this one.
Overall, a 6-4 result in the next 10 is pretty good considering the relatively weak end of season schedule. After these 10, there are a few more immediate tough games, but then the opposition quality drops off. If the Sixers can revert back to how they looked earlier in the season, they should be in good shape for the end of season stretch and hopefully lock up the Atlantic, home court for the first round, and the #3 seed.