Boston (40 – 9) vs.
Philadelphia (23 – 23)
7:00 PM ET, CSNE/CSNP
Three things to watch for tonight:
76ers team analysis:
The Sixers came into this season heralded as another legitimate threat to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference. After their impressive run to make the playoffs at the end of last season and their signing of Elton Brand, the future appeared bright in the city of brotherly love.
Brand’s mediocre offensive play at the start of the season failed to mesh well with the rest of the team out of the gate resulting in 9-14 start. Fan favorite coach Maurice Cheeks was shown the door in mid December, replacing him was Senior VP and Assistant GM Tony DiLeo.
Sending DiLeo down to coach was a bold move by GM Ed Stefanski as DiLeo lacked any coaching experience for the last 20 years and even then his job was working with the German National team. Due to this, Sixers fans were immediately skeptical of DiLeo, even booing him on his first night coaching in Philly.
Appearing unfazed by the negative reaction, DiLeo encouraged his team to get out in transition and gave the team the green light for shooting threes, challenging them to make five a game. This philosophy was a perplexing development for a team which was only shooting 29 percent from deep, one of the worst percentages in the league, upon DiLeo’s arrival.
DiLeo’s trust in his players has been handsomely rewarded with a sharp improvement in the team offensively with improved shooting percentages and production for Philly’s shooters since DiLeo took over. After starting his tenure as coach 4-6, the Sixers have won 10 of 13 games, including quality wins over Portland, San Antonio, Atlanta, and Houston twice. The interesting part of all of these impressive wins is that they came while Brand was out with a dislocated right shoulder for fifteen games.
This hot streak combined Brand’s return from injury a couple weeks ago created a very interesting question for DiLeo to consider. How much did Brand’s injury allow the Sixers to hit their stride offensively? The absence of Brand allowed DiLeo to go with a smaller starting lineup, inserting Willie Green at SG, and moving Iguodala and Thaddeus Young to SF, and PF respectively.
This extremely athletic lineup without the underachieving Brand opened up the floor for the team, and created match up problems for opponents. Iguodala clearly benefited the most from the change, averaging 22.3 points during Brand’s absence up from 13.6 points with Brand but the entire team’s FG went up and the teams’ 3 point shooting improved to 32 percent.
The Sixers are 3-2 since Brand returned from injury on January 24th. DiLeo to this point has been bringing Brand off the bench in these games for about 15-20 minutes in an attempt to get him back into game shape. This has allowed to keep DiLeo’s hot starting five intact, but one should watch how long the coach waits to insert his $80 million dollar star back into the starting lineup. I think it is very clear that Brand would be back in all ready had the team not been playing so well. Once Brand returns to the starting five, it will be interesting to see how he affects Philly’s up-tempo play and the improved numbers of Iguodala.
One development that remains clear is that Philly is now a team playing up to its potential under DiLeo. The Sixers sit at 23-23 in the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference, only three games behind 4th place Atlanta. Fellow CelticsHub.com contributor Zach Lowe mentioned how he is scared of Philly’s new running style and thinks it could be a tough match up for the Celtics in a potential second round match up if they sneak up to a 4 or 5 seed.
And although this Celtics team has had their way with Philly the past two years winning five of the last six match ups rather handily, including both this year in Boston, Philly has shown they have the talent to play with the green, being one of the only six teams to win in Boston at the end of last season.
Come playoff time they could be the sleeping giant in the crowded bottom tier of the Eastern Conference