Stopping 1st overall pick Kyrie Irving in pick and roll sets will be key if the Sixers want to defeat the 17-29 Cleveland Cavaliers Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
The Sixers find themselves in an interesting spot. With 17 games remaining in the season and against an opponent they aren't fighting for playoff positioning for, this game can't be classified as a must-win. But with only 6 home games left, tied for the division lead with Boston, tied for 6th best record in the Eastern Conference, having lost 5 of their last 7, and coming off the horrible road loss to the Tim Duncan/Tiago Splitter/Gary Neal'less Spurs (although the Sixers were without Andre Iguodala), losing tonight against the 19-29 Cleveland Cavaliers would be a huge wasted opportunity.
Luckily, the Sixers haven't wasted many opportunities this year, particularly at home.
The Sixers and Cavs have met once so far this year, at Cleveland in a 99-84 win that features Jrue Holiday with a 20 point, 4 rebound, 5 assist, 0 turnover performance. Louis Williams (19 points) and Thaddeus Young (16 points) gave big contributions from the bench.
That being said, the game doesn't really provide much insight into what will happen tonight as Kyrie Irving didn't play.
Despite the brilliance of Irving (18.8 points per game, 5.6 assists, 47.2% from the floor, 40.2% from three), the Cavs have struggled as a team, dropping 6 of their last 7.
There's two things the Cavs do very well that you have to watch out for: They get to the line (6th in free throw rate at 31.6%), and they get to the offensive glass (5th, at 29.5% offensive rebounding rate). Looking at those two numbers, it's not surprising that they're 3rd in the league in shots at the rim.
Jrue Holiday's pick and roll defense will be tested once again, as Kyrie Irving is a diversified playmaker off the pick and roll. Whether that is using the screen to setup a jumper, getting to the rim off the pick, or passing to an open spot-up shooter, Holiday and the Sixers bigs will have their hands for defending the pick and roll and recovering.
Outside of that, Cleveland's bigs could give the Sixers some trouble, for different reasons. Brand has struggled at times struggling Jamison on the perimeter (and Thad covering Jamison on the blocks), and Hawes could struggle to cover the athleticism of Tristan Thompson, who is averaging 14 points and 8.2 rebounds since being inserted into the starting lineup 5 games ago. Thompson still have some shortcomings (cough*jump shot*cough*), but he's the type of active big that could give the Sixers some problems with his athleticism, offensive rebounding, and ability to get to the line. Hawes (or whoever is defending him) can't lose sight of him to go provide help, as Thompson does an excellent job of moving in space and getting in position.
While not a must-win, a loss here would be a huge blow, perhaps as much in team morale as in playoff positioning. Overall, I have to think the Sixers will do what they've done all season, which is pound teams they should beat.
will be out is listed as doubtful for tonight, with Meeks once again starting if he can't play.