The 76ers host the Hornets tonight, which also marks our (almost) annual Liberty Ballers Night at the 76ers Game. You can read all about that here and here, and I hope to see many of you at the game tonight. And now, a preview.
The erstwhile Bobcats, expected to be a competitive team this year, instead fell back down into the Eastern Conference's cellar, likely spurred by a breath of not-so-fresh air in Lance Stephenson right into the eardrum and a collapse of what now appears to be an aberration - the team's excellent defense from a year ago.
After ranking fifth, surprisingly, in defensive rating last year per the folks at basketball-reference, the now-Hornets rank a disappointing 24th. The drop is stark despite many key personnel remaining the same. Al Jefferson returns in the middle, although some have described him as visibly a step slower defensively.
The offensive numbers are down a bit across the board - the team really misses Josh McRoberts' spacing and passing - but the key players remain mostly the same. Jefferson is the NBA's death and taxes. He still grinds out nearly 20 points and racks up double-doubles, and never turns the ball over, while almost entirely while operating from the left block. Kemba Walker runs the pick-and-roll and hits shot he never should be taking in the first place, if his game were steeped in NBA logic.
The Jefferson match up is key, because Nerlens Noel has never quite faced a post-up maestro like Jefferson. His poke-away tricks won't work. His length won't be as big of a factor. Noel will need to stay grounded through all the pump-fakes and other tricks in Big Al's bag. Noel has remarkably avoided foul trouble plagues as a rookie, but tonight may feature his toughest post opponent.
Stephenson, mentioned above, is out tonight with a groin injury. Despite not being a good shooter, he is a positive offensive player, and aside from Walker, Jefferson, and Gary Neal, the Hornets have little to work with. It might be a slog fest, featuring two really bad offensive teams, and a close game should be expected.
Combine the Sixers' home record and the Hornets' road record, and you get a combined 1-23. Something's gotta give.