The Back Story:
First meeting of the season. The Sixers swept the season series last year.
The Big Picture:
The Clippers plan of reaching .500 in Philadelphia today looked pretty strong at half time in New York last night. But a terrible second half showing against the Knicks leaves them at 1-1 on the easy part of their road trip. Eric Gordon had an uncharacteristically weak game in New York, and the team didn't have a clue how to defend the pick and roll in the second half (which is strange, since they did a good job in the first half). There's not a lot to say about the team going into this game. They have to play two complete halves of basketball, particularly on defense. One half isn't going to do it. I do expect Eric Gordon to play well after struggling last night. He won't play that poorly twice in a row. Chris Kaman has scored 20 points or more in three consecutive games.
Last night in Boston, the team with the best record in the NBA over the last 2 weeks (the Celtics at 11-0) met the team with the worst record in the NBA over the last 10 games (the Sixers at 1-13) - and the Sixers won. So go figure. Flukey wins in Boston notwithstanding, the Sixers have really struggled this season. The last few seasons, when they were seemingly overachieving based on the limited talent they had, the Sixers were winning with a helter-skelter style that forced a lot of turnovers and their defense led to offense. So although they had a terrible time scoring in the half court offense, they still made the playoffs based on their defense, forcing turnovers, and gettting easy baskets. In the 07-08 season, Philly ranked 8th in defensive efficiency. This season they are 28th, ahead of only Memphis and Toronto. Their regression on defense has left them with no real identity, as evidenced by the fact that they've recently benched their highest paid player and signed a former MVP who has failed spectacularly with his last two teams. The Sixers have also been hit by injuries. Elton Brand of course missed most of his first season in Philadelphia with a shoulder injury, and he may simply be physically diminished after two consecutive significant injuries (he missed most of his last season with the Clippers with a ruptured achilles of course). This season, Marreese Speights started off great before getting hurt, though he has returned in the last two games. Then Lou Williams broke his jaw - he's getting close to returning and there's an outside chance he could play tonight. But even if the Sixers get back to full health, the bigger question will remain. What kind of team are they?
- Check your DVRs. This game, like last night's in New York, is actually on Fox Sports West, not Prime Ticket like most of the Clippers' games. My season pass is only on Prime Ticket, since the name of the show is "NBA Basketball" and I don't want 80 Lakers game clogging up my disk. So consequently, I missed the first quarter last night before I noticed it wasn't recording. Lucky me - I missed the good part.
- A very expensive backup. Elton Brand left the Clippers abruptly 17 months ago after allegedly reaching a verbal agreement to re-sign in LA. Whether it's karma or simply injuries and time, he's been a shell of his former self. In LA, he was a perennial leader in PER, and one of the very small number of players in the league who consistently averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. But in his first season as a Sixer, he averaged fewer than 14 points per game, and shot a career low 44.7%. He has been about the same this season, and was taken out of the starting lineup about a week ago. He's a might peeved about it, as Jerry Crowe noted in the LA Times yesterday. "It's like, no disrespect, but Mikki Moore gets to start, and I don't?" No disrespect, Mikki. The Sixers owe Brand about $66M through the summer of 2013. Ouch. Brand did hit a game winner against the Clippers in their only meeting last season, and he also hit the game winner against the Celtics last night.
- The coaching carousel. It's clear to me that the Clippers should have gotten a new coach last season, or at the latest this off-season. What's less clear is whom they should have hired. Eddie Jordan would have certainly been on my short list. Instead, Jordan went to Philadelphia, where he has been a disaster so far. The team has gotten much worse defensively, and are off to a terrible start after making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. This just illustrates how hard it is to find the right coach. The two new hires that are having the most success this season are Paul Westphal and Alvin Gentry. I would not have considered either of them for a second. Shows what I know, I guess.
- UCLA point guards. It seems like they're all over the league right now. In fact, there are several sets who played together in the same Bruins backcourt. Baron Davis played with Earl Watson, Russell Westbrook played with Darren Collison, and then Collison played with Jrue Holiday. Jrue has recently been inserted into the starting lineup for the Sixers with the injuries to Lou Williams and Allen Iverson. He had his best game as a pro last Sunday against the Warriors, with 15 points, 6 assists and 7 rebounds. Baron will try to school the younger Bruin tonight - at 19, Holiday is the youngest player in the NBA, turning 19 in June just in time for the NBA draft. He is the only player in the NBA born in the 90s.
- Back to backs. Both teams played last night in other cities, the Clippers in New York and the Sixers in Boston, so neither team has a rest advantage. (Interestingly, the Clippers decided to take the train from New York to Philly - how European.) The results of course couldn't be more different, the Sixers getting a huge come from behind win at the last second, the Clippers losing a 20 point lead and missing a chance to win in the final seconds. Will the Sixers still be riding that emotional high? Or will they let down after securing that unlikely win?
- Al Thornton vs. Thaddeus Young. When Brand left, I made the observation that if he was leaving to win, it was a dubious decision since the Clippers looked to be better at three of the four positions around him. (At the time, I was giving shooting guard to the Sixers with Iguodala, but I had no idea how good Eric Gordon was at that point, so Gordon will have that matchup soon as well.) But Thornton and Young are an interesting comparison, partly because they came out of the same draft, at numbers 12 and 14 respectively. The other thing is that Young was a very young rookie at 19, while Thornton was a very old rookie at almost 24. Young is more of a tweener - he's now back to playing power forward with Brand relegated to the bench. But whereas Young is the kid, the improvement you might have expected from the now 21 year old just hasn't been there. On a per minute basis, his scoring is down, his rebounding is down, his shooting percentage is down and his turnovers are up. So whereas I would have said that Al Thornton was the high volume, low efficiency player before, the opposite is true this year. Thornton shoots a higher percentage, takes fewer shots per minute, and turns the ball over less. He's even outrebounding Young this season. They won't match up against each other at the start since Young will be at the four and Thornton at the three, but they'll square off at some point in this game.
- Philly guys. Both Rasual Butler and Mardy Collins are from Philadelphia, And I mean through and through. They were born there, played high school ball there, and played college ball there, at Temple and LaSalle respectively. The Clippers always seem to have a few Philly guys around.
- Allen Iverson. What is there to say about him that we haven't covered at some point? He hasn't played the last couple of games because of knee issues - he's had his knee drained twice in the last week. He may or may not play tonight. When the Clippers played Memphis back at the beginning of the season, that was the day that Iverson went AWOL from the Grizzlies, and he never played for them again. So this is another chance for AI to play against one of his more reluctant suitors this summer. By the way, if he does play, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he goes off.
- The Final Quarter is all that matters. It has now been 11 consecutive Clippers games in which the team that won the fourth quarter won the game (of course it was tied after three in New York, so that one was pretty obvious). So I respectfully request that the Clippers play well in the fourth quarter.
Doctor, question that's always bothered me and a lot of people: Mayflower, combined with Philadelphia - a no-brainer, right? Cause this is where the Mayflower landed. Not so. It turns out Columbus actually set foot somewhere down in the West Indies. Little known fact.
- Get the Sixers perspective at Liberty Ballers.