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Sixers vs Suns Preview: Recapping the Ish Smith and Mike D'Antoni era

The Phoenix Suns have a chance to become the first team to lose to the Sixers twice this season.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

December 26, 2015. Ish Smith led the Sixers to their second victory of the season and subsequently forced Jeff Hornacek's job security into public question. A month later, Smith has guided the Sixers to a 5-9 record since returning to Philadelphia, serving as the speedy jitterbug point guard Brett Brown so desperately needed.

Mike D'Antoni also debuted on the Sixers' bench that evening. And his influence has been evident as well, especially in the uptick of Jahlil Okafor's involvement in pick-and-rolls.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted the team's significant visual offensive improvement during his pre-game media availability Sunday.

"They run the pistol action after almost every free throw, different versions of it, which is just a throw ahead with a big trailing in for a flare and ball-screen," Stevens said. "It comes really quick, they run it really fast, and Ish is a blur if you're asleep on that handback at all, or that step-up at all. But, it's the idea of they've got four guys that are shooting 67% of their shots are threes right now, and then you've got a guy that can get it inside the defense whenever he wants."

Stevens is describing the ideal offense surrounding Jahlil Okafor that we've discussed ad nauseam on this site: Wings launching threes and stretching the floor to provide the big man ample room to eat down low, with a lightening-quick point guard that can get into the paint and keep a defense honest on pick-and-rolls—opening opportunities for both Okafor and Nerlens Noel diving hard to the rim.

The Sixers' offense still ranks 26th in the league in the month of Ish and D'Antoni, but that minute transformation — up 7 points per possession and from 30th in the league before Christmas Day — has been an obvious breath of fresh air. Tonight should be more of a breeze, with another fast-paced, young upstart in Phoenix coming to town.

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