Tonight’s Sixers game against the Cleveland Cavaliers has generated all types of feels. The Liberty Ballers crew offers their thoughts about tonight’s game.
Adio B. Royster - Rodney Hood: I don’t know why, but I have an irrational fear of the Sixers suffering a loss at the hands of “The Rodney Hood Game”.
It’s totally irrational, but I don’t ignore feelings like this when I get them. Over Hood’s last five games (all starts), he’s scored 13.2 ppg shooting 50% from the field and 37% from three. It doesn’t help my paranoia when I look at Hood’s home/road splits. At home, Hood shoots 39.7% FG and 33.3% from deep. On the road, those numbers jump to 45.7%/41.9%. Something about Hood seemingly finding himself in the Cavs system worries me. (I could also be a general worry-wort -- which I’ve been told numerous times.)
Roy Burton - The Fans: I’m genuinely curious to see what reaction LeBron James gets from the Wells Fargo Center crowd this evening. On one hand, James will play the role of Public Enemy No. 1 in the biggest basketball game in this city since (at least) 2012. Conversely, there will be a lot of “Cavaliers fans” in the building (who, strangely enough, just so happened to be Miami “Heats” fans back in the early part of the decade), and their cheers might be enough to drown out those of us who want to give James the patented, Gabe Kapler welcome.
And then there’s the X-factor: The contingent of Sixers’ fans who WANT to boo LeBron, but also wouldn’t mind it if King James linked up with Ben and Joel and the rest of the crew this summer. These folks will probably just wind up sitting on their hands: Heckling the team that wears a different color jersey than yours is embedded in our sports DNA, and it’s a habit that’s hard to break.
The smart money says that LeBron and Co. get harassed mercilessly tonight by the majority of the WFC crowd: Locking down that No. 3 seed is of paramount importance. The free agency stuff will sort itself out in July, and if James wants to hold it against Philly that he was booed out of the gym during a late-season game with playoff implications, then we don’t want him here anyway (actually, yes we do).
Caleb Turrentine - A Brand New Matchup: The two teams that play at Wells Fargo Center on Friday night have not faced each other yet this season. In Cleveland’s 22-point win on November 27th, Jerryd Bayless played 21 minutes for the 76ers while Jose Calderon started at point guard for the Cavs. In the second meeting of the season, Bayless, Trevor Booker and TLC nearly combined for 58 minutes of playing time. When the Sixers won in Cleveland on March 1st, Joel Embiid pulled down a double-double in 34 minutes while Kevin Love was unavailable for the Cavaliers.
Tonight’s game, as with every game in this regular season series, will bring some of the same star power but likely new matchups across the court. It will be interesting to see if Amir Johnson is given the assignment of guarding Kevin Love. Maybe Brett Brown will decide to explore playing Dario Saric and Ersan Ilyasova at the same time. Of course, the biggest focus is on the three seed but how each team adjusts to playing against a “new team” will be intriguing to watch.
Tyler Monahan - Amir Johnson’s Defense is Crucial without Embiid: The worry from most people when Joel Embiid went down with a fractured orbital bone was that there would be a giant void in the middle on both offense and defense. Those are still concerns as the playoffs approach, but for right now Amir Johnson is filling in quite admirably. He doesn’t bring much offensively, but on the defensive end he fills the middle of the lane and at the very least he boxes out strong rebounders to allow his teammates to grab boards. The Cavaliers are a middle of the pack team in the NBA when it comes to scoring in the paint, averaging 44.2 points per game down low (14th in the NBA), so Johnson should have a bigger role in the biggest game of the season, especially with Richaun Holmes more of an offensive weapon down low. All this especially considering that Kevin Love will be in action for the Cavs. Will Amir answer the call?
Randy Cohen - No Love for Kevin Love?: Kevin Love — the full-time basketball player for Cleveland, not our own fearless leader — must be the most strangely underrated athlete I can recall. Not the most underrated, that’s Robert Covington! But the most strangely underrated. First, let’s note some things about his game:
- Tremendous shooter
- Exceptional rebounder
- Transcendent passer
- Had ultra-impressive counting stats when asked to do that, and put up great on-off numbers while doing it
- Then moved to a different team and given a different role, he continued to put up very good (if less eye-popping) counting stats, plus continued the terrific on-off numbers, and, oh yeah, won a title while making the Finals every year
- Then asked to play a totally new position, center, and is near the top in on-off measures in his first year in the role
So, he’s really good. So then the next thing is, how is he perceived? And the answer is, he’s ignored a shockingly large amount of the time. Like, he’ll get hurt, and then the team loses a bunch, and if it was, say, the Celtics without Kyrie or OKC without Paul George everyone would say, well sure, they’re missing a star, but with Cleveland everyone just acts like it’s a puzzle they aren’t doing better, rarely recognizing the importance of the missing piece. And if he is mentioned, it’s usually to emphasize a perceived flaw in his game, like his supposedly weak defense (even though this year his defensive RPM is far above average).
So, OK, he’s underrated. So are lots of guys. But here’s what’s so weird — if ever a player had the characteristics to be OVERRATED, it’s Kevin Love!
So, it’s a puzzle — as I say, underrated, and I can’t quite figure out why. It isn’t because he played with LeBron; no one underrated Kyrie for that. It isn’t because he’s a shooter who doesn’t drive the lane at an elite level; no one underrated Larry Bird for that. I guess it’s some weird combination of things, but I don’t know what or why. Enjoy him while he’s around; there haven’t been a whole lot like him and there probably aren’t going to be a whole lot more!
Kevin F. Love - Playoff Atmosphere: The Sixers performance in this game will say a lot about the team. Sure, there’s no Embiid (and maybe no Dario), so whatever happens will be curbed with that sentiment.
But given the energy that will undoubtedly be pumping from the fan base through the veins of every Sixer, it would be extremely disappointing to see the Sixers come out and lay an egg. On the other hand, if the Sixers can run with the Cavs and even topple them, it should speak volumes about their chances in the playoffs.
I’m not saying a Sixers win indicates that the team is going directly to the ECF, or that a loss means they’ll be bounced in the first round. But we hear a lot about playoff experience and how lack of said experience can be detrimental to a young team. Well tonight is a playoff game in some respect, or at least has the gravity of one. And if the Sixers can recognize the moment, step up their game and deliver LeBron the best they have to offer, it should instill quite an amount of confidence in the Sixers’ fanbase.