Shaun Livingston spies, with his little eye: Evan Turner about to practice his french kiss technique with a basketball, or Evan Turner making a fart sound with his mouth, hoping people think it was an actual Tobias Harris fart.
Every year, Jeff Clark of Celtics Blog fame does a great job of rounding up the best NBA Bloggers the internets have to offer for one massive season preview, team-by-team. This year the guys at our SB Nation Grizzles blog are doing a similar exercise and graciously invited Liberty Ballers to participate. They offered up five questions about the Sixers, which I answered. These questions aren't meant for the loyal readers of LB and die-hard Sixers fans, because you guys know the answers as well as I do. Instead, this provides a brief snapshot of the regular season and what to expect from the Sixers in the Playoffs for the fans fortunate enough to root for other non-mediocre franchises.
If you're a Sixers fan, read along and nod, as tears flow onto your keyboard, like a hot Louis Williams rap. If you're not familiar with the Sixers, be thankful, and enjoy this Playoff preview.
Team Record: 35-31
How would you describe the Sixers in the regular season?
It was a tale of two seasons. The Sixers team that started the season does not resemble the team who finished it. They jumped out to a 20-9 record behind phenomenal defense and an efficient, team-oriented offense. Then Spencer Hawes – who was playing way over his head – went down with injury, the offense plummeted and the Sixers' lack of late-game execution cost them just about every close game they participated in. They were 5-16 in games decided by six points or less.
They finished the season 16-22 – a record inflated by a few garbage wins down the stretch – including a 21-point loss to the Wizards, a 21-point loss to the Raptors, a three-point loss to the Dwight Howard-less Magic, and a loss to the Nets in Philadelphia. Bottom line, they were one of the worst teams in the NBA following their hot start.
What are the Sixers strengths? Are there any areas that concern you?
The Sixers are still the third best defensive team in the league, based on the numbers, but that ranking is highly, highly inflated by their scorching start. Their defense is still respectable. Jrue-Evan-Iguodala make for one of the best perimeter-defending trios in the NBA, and Elton Brand has quietly been very good on defense. But they're not playing on the level they were to start the season.
They're also the best team in the NBA at taking care of the basketball. Their overall team athleticism is also a relative strength, despite the fact that Spencer Hawes, Elton Brand, Nikola Vucevic, Lavoy Allen and Tony Battie make up for possibly the most unathletic front court in the NBA.
Everything else is a concern. As previously stated, this team is probably the worst of the 16 Playoff teams this season. They're not the 20-9 team everyone saw in January and February – defense included. They can't beat a good team, win a close game, score in the half-court and appear to have collectively tuned out their head coach – a coach who has resorted to changing his starting lineup, not only every game, but halftime of every game as well.
What is your likely playoff rotation? Who is likely to see their
minutes increase? Who might fall out of the rotation completely?
As previously alluded to, Doug Collins has gotten flat-out desperate with his constant tinkering of the starting lineup. He recently went on record saying he doesn't know who's going to start at center in the Playoffs, but it won't be Nikola Vucevic. Awesome.
If I had to guess, I'd assume Collins goes back to the rotation he started the season with: Jrue, Meeks, Iguodala, Brand and Hawes, with Thad, Lou and Evan the first three off the bench. Sprinkle in a little Vooch and Battie and you got yourself a rotation. Expect way too much Tony Battie, because he's a "veteran". Awesome x2.
Who is most likely to step up their level of play? Do you have a
potential "breakout" performer this postseason?
None of the above? I'm hoping Evan Turner has a good Playoff series, but don't think he'll be awarded much of an opportunity. Hopefully Jrue's defensive potential comes to fruition more often than not and D-Rose doesn't go off for 40 points every night. Andre Iguodala normally plays well against the Bulls. Elton Brand, maybe? He seems to "get up" for big games, and he should be relatively rested.
How far can you realistically see the Sixers advancing in the playoffs?
They'll be eliminated in the first round. Could I conceivably see them stealing a game, maybe two? Absolutely, they have a history of playing the Bulls tough. Would I bet on it? Absolutely not. With the way the Sixers have played the second half of the season, you have to expect a four-game sweep.