The 10-4 Philadelphia 76ers look to bounce back from their crushing overtime loss to Andre Miller and the Denver Nuggets when they host the 11-4 Atlanta Hawks tonight at the Wells Fargo Center. Despite being without Al Horford – who's out 3-4 months with a torn pectoral muscle – the Hawks have won four consecutive games and seven of their last eight since an embarrassing loss on TNT to the Heat without LeBron AND Wade. They last played Wednesday when they defeated the Portland Trail Blazers by three in Atlanta.
Somehow the Hawks have won four straight without arguably their best player in Al Horford. It doesn't hurt that all four games have been home games and three have been against the Bobcats, Raptors and T'Wolves. Their last win however, was against a very good Blazers team.
Jrue Holiday will face another point guard from the 2009 draft class in Jeff Teague, who's having a decent season with a league average PER of 15, but struggles with turnovers at times. Andre Iguodala should handle the aging Joe Johnson fairly easily – the perennial 20 point-per-game "superstar" is under 20 points for the second consecutive season and is shooting 42 percent from the field. Marvin Williams may be trouble when the Sixers starting lineup is on the floor because he has a serious size advantage on Jodie Meeks. Fortunately, Williams isn't particularly skilled on the offensive end, but if he can exploit the mis-match he could be a breakout candidate. Josh Smith will probably give Brand problems on defense, but EB should be able to hold his own on the other end, as Smith isn't the type of player who gives Brand trouble. And whether or not Zaza Pachulia or Jason Collins start, neither should pose a legitimate threat for the Sixers, even without Spencer Hawes.
The Hawks bench consists of a bunch of old dudes – Tracy McGrady, former Sixer Willie Green (Bill!), either Zaza or Collins (depending on who starts), Jannero Pargo and D-League baller, Ivan Johnson, who sports a diamond grill. The Hawks rank 19th in the league with 29.7 bench points per game; the Sixers and the Night Shift are third with 43.1 points. Big advantage: Sixers.
The Hawks rank near the top of the league in many categories – they're fifth in assist rate, fourth in turnover rate, seventh in rebound rate, eighth in offensive efficiency and fifth in defensive efficiency. Statistically, they have no major weakness.
The three stats I'm going to begin looking at in regards to Sixers opponents are: Points in the paint, free throw rate and attempts at the rim, because those are the areas the Sixers are vulnerable with their lack of interior defense. The Hawks rank 10th in the league with 38 points in the paint. They're 12th in free throw rate and third in attempts at the rim, at 29 per game.
The good news is, the Hawks also allow the fifth most shot attempts at the rim for their opponents, so the Sixers will have an opportunity to attack the paint. The bad news is, the Hawks don't allow their opponents to shoot free throws at a high rate, ranking fifth in opponents FTR, and paired with the Sixers inability to get to the line, free throws could play a huge role in tonight's contest.
Against the Spread
The Sixers are 5.5 point favorites tonight. They're 11-3 against the spread this year and I'm picking them to cover again. If Horford were playing I'd reconsider, but neither the Hawks starters nor bench scare me as a Sixers fan. Neither team is playing on short rest and the Sixers are at home. The Sixers and Hawks have played 10 games over the last three years, with both teams winning five total and three at home. Unless Bill Green goes Andre Miller's revenge on his former team, the Sixers should handle the Horford-less Hawks and cover the spread. Free Big Macs, anyone?