Already getting a sense of deja vu, perhaps? That's because this column
is going to be remarkably similar to the ones I wrote before the Sixers'
first-round series against the Heat in 2011 and against the Magic in 2009
(and it would have been remarkably similar to the one I wrote before
the Pistons series in 2008, if I was writing for the Level at the time.)
As Ace Hood might say, it's the same s---, just a different
The Sixers aren't going to win this series, and even hoping
that they will seems oddly unfair. All we can really hope is that the
boys hustle hard and try not to embarrass themselves (and by extension
us) too badly.
Of course, this series is a little different than the last three
first-rounders the Sixers have played, but it's not in a good way. In
those other three series, the Sixers even making the playoffs was
considered exceeding expectations. In '08, they did so in their first
full year without Allen Iverson, in '09, they did so after suffering the
crushing disappointment of big free agent landing Elton Brand's subpar
play (and subsequent re-injury), and in '11, they did so a year after
being one of the worst teams in the East.
In 2012, however, they're
coming from the other direction—they were always expected to make the
playoffs, and for a while there, they were even expected to win a round
(or possibly even two).
Well, no more—now that the once-discombobulated NBA has sobered,
they see that the Sixers ain't that fine after all, and now people are
giving them even less credit against the Bulls than they were given
against the Heat last year.
It's hard to really contradict them—up until
their recent four-game win streak, which they only get half-credit for
due to it being the end of the season and three of their opponents
having already thrown in the towel, the Sixers have been miserable for
the last few months, not just the worst team in the playoffs but one of
the worst teams in the league, losing to the Wizards and Raptors by
about 20 each and getting creamed in must-wins against the Celtics and
Magic. And oh yeah, the Bulls are really good, winning 50 games despite
playing nearly half their season without reigning MVP Derrick Rose.
So yeah, we're probably going home in the first round this year,
like we've done in each of our last four playoff appearances. As such,
it doesn't really make sense to break down matchups and go nuts with the
stats and the like. So let's just talk about what to watch in this
series, both for the sake of the Sixers having a fighting chance of
advancing, and for where they go after these playoffs, in what should
(could?) be the most pivotal off-season in recent Sixers memory.
- How long does Lavoy Allen start at center? That's right:
Temple's own Lavoy Allen, Mr. 500 himself, is expected to be the Sixers'
starting pivot. It's a somewhat perplexing move, considering the
front-line advantage the Bulls have on Philly even with a seven-footer
like Spencer Hawes or Nik Vucevic in the starting lineup, but Coach Doug
Collins' bench-fetishizing knows no bounds, and it certainly will be a
weapon to be able to bring two trees like Hawes and Vuc in against the
Bulls' second unit. You do have to wonder if Hawes on the bench means
that Collins does not see him as part of the team's long-term plans, and
if consequently the team does not plan on retaining his services this
off-season. It's not exactly a vote of confidence.
- Who takes Derrick Rose? Ideally, it should be Jrue
Holiday, who has shown flashes of being a lockdown perimeter defender
and would certainly allow the Sixers to maximize their other defensive
advantages elsewhere. The last time Rose played the Sixers, however, he
shredded the Damaja, and Collins was forced to switch Andre Iguodala
onto him before long. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing a little bit of
Evan Turner on Rose either—Evan can't stay with Jrue on the perimeter,
but he can prevent him from getting to the basket (or at least funnel
him to a help big), and force him to take jumpers. And if he's hitting
those, it's pretty much game over anyway.
- How much does Coach Collins rely on Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Lou Williams?
In my mind, none of these guys are getting this team to the next level,
none of these guys are going to be on this team in 12 months, and if
we're not going to win this round anyway, none of these guys should be
the go-to options in crunch time. Much preferable would be letting our
young guys get that much-coveted (though in all truth, probably
much-overrated) Playoff Experience to hopefully allow them to grow
together into a core that can honestly compete in a future playoff
series. If it really is those three guys, Jodie Meeks and Thaddeus Young
down the stretch, with our late-game offense consisting of isos for
'Dre or Sour Patch Lou...it's gonna be a little hard for me to be
terribly invested in whether this team wins or not.
- How much does our team still feel like fighting for Coach Collins?
Last year, the fight in this team was never in question, and their
series-clinching loss to the Heat was so emotional in its sheer heart
and humanity that I called it the "Best Loss Ever." This year, the team
has shown a definite (and highly discouraging) willingness to throw in
the towel on their coach, to let a big lead get bigger and watch a game
fade out beyond the horizon. Will they show the same heart down the
stretch against the Bulls this post-season, even in semi-inevitable
defeat? The answer to that question will likely have a great deal of
bearing on what Doug Collins' future is with this team for next season
- Who the f--- is Evan Turner, really? Is there anything
this guy could do that would surprise you at this point? I'd believe
you if you told me that he wins the Sixers two games single-handedly,
posting a pair of 28-15 games and clamping down Derrick Rose on D, just
like I'd believe you if you told me that he shoots 27% for the entire
series, posts twice as many turnovers as assists, and sees his minutes
slashed to ten a game by series' end. If there's any X Factor to this
series, it's certainly the Extraterrestrial, and though it's probably
not enough for the Sixers to win either way, it could have a fair bit of
bearing on how the organization views Turner going into the off-season,
and whether they feel like his emergence means they can finally afford
to cut the cord with Andre Iguodala, or whether his continually
frustrating play means maybe they're better off shopping him elsewhere.
As disappointing as this season has ended up, and as little a
chance as I feel they have in this series—again, I peg it optimistically
at around 15 to 1—I still plan on enjoying watching this team in the
post-season, and so should you.
For better or worse, this team very well
might not look like this for much longer, and even if they have too
many flaws to ultimately eclipse the Bulls, I believe they'll make it a
close, eminently watchable series.
The 12th draft pick might've been
nice, but watching your team play basketball in May is not without its
charms either, and I believe the Sixers will give us the pleasure of one
and very possibly two wins in this series.
1:00 tip-off from the United
Center. Go Ballers.