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Sixers-Mavericks Preview: Covington Returns (Again)

Robert Covington returns to the floor, Dirk Nowitzki is unearthly and the Sixers need to learn how to make open shots. My incredibly scattered thoughts on tonight's Sixers-Mavs game.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers are 0-and-10, and that's strange. It's fitting for a team that's missing its only two even semi-established starting back-court players, as well as far-and-away its most productive two-way wing. And it's a similar band of misfits to the one that went 0-fer through Dec. 3 to start last season, too. But this feels different.

For the first time since Allen Iverson (or maybe Nick Young), the Sixers have a player they can throw the ball to and say, "go get a bucket" (OK, yes, definitely Nick Young). Okafor's struggled a bit more as of late, but he's still trending towards the top-shelf of the league in isolation opportunities (0.86 Points Per Possession on 35 attempts) and what he's shown has been more than pleasant for a 19 year-old the team just threw into the fire on Day One.

This offense, at times, is moving and shaking like we haven't seen it before too. And I mean really moving, not like the War On Freelancing system that Eddie Jordan tried to run for a minute. When T.J. McConnell gets the team into an offensive set, Okafor either ends up with an isolation post-up while his teammates cut backdoor and run off high screens - typically a positive use of a possession, given the team's other shot creation options - or he bends the defense, kicks it out and a guard/wing ends up with an open shot. But the problem is, Nik Stauskas is 15-50 from three-point range on shots SportVU deemed "open" or "wide open," Jerami Grant has taken 30 steps backward from where he started his rookie season shooting wise and T.J. McConnell looks like an eight year-old shooting on a ten-feet hoop for the first time.

The shots are there, the execution isn't. Wins don't feel out of reach, either.

Now tonight, the Sixers are facing a 6-4 Mavericks team overachieving as Rick Carlisle teams often tend to. Robert Covington is back from his MCL sprain tonight after his premature first return, and oh sorry I lost track of what I was saying because Dirk Nowitzki is an alien.

Where was I? Oh right, Lord Covington. Well, talking about making shots that are supposed to go in, he converted on over 39 percent of his open or wide open shots last season (119-of-303), which doesn't sound like anything incredible in the grand scheme of things, nor should it be. But seriously, the whole point of a big-man commanding double-teams is to create open shots for teammates to then make. Covington can take them back to basics when he's back at full strength.

So essentially, this game at a glance: Covington can make open threes and that is nice, Dirk Nowitzki is an alien and Nik Stauskas still needs to get on track. I think having another legitimate threat to shoot the ball on the perimeter will open things up even more both Stauskas and Hollis Thompson. As for Dirk, I'm sure Nerlens Noel will struggle with his timeless witchcraft, but Philly actually matches up decently up front.

The challenge for Okafor, who's shown to have limited defensive instincts despite how much space and time to react Brett Brown allows him defending pick-and-rolls, will be tracking guys like Pachulia and even Dwight Powell. Carlisle loves to have his notoriously mobile bigs operate pretty high and slip lots of pick-and-rolls; Pachulia and Powell aren't Tyson Chandler or even Brandan Wright, but Okafor's ability to read and react will be tested.

As for the back-court, if T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas can contain penetration and help just a bit more viciously than Ty Lawson and James Harden did against Raymond Felton, they could find themselves in decent shape.

It remains to be seen what kind of restrictions Covington will be on tonight, but I'd guess they'll ease him back in pretty conservatively after his last return to unrestricted action proved to be a bit premature. Either way, 7PM at The Center tonight - we'll see if the Sixers can finally get on track.

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