Appreciating the Little Things: Five Things to Watch in the Sixers-Bulls Series

Appreciating the Little Things: Five Things to Watch in the Sixers-Bulls Series

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
post-season. 
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
    and beyond. 
  • 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.

Instant Replay: St. Joe's 78, Penn 71

Instant Replay: St. Joe's 78, Penn 71

BOX SCORE

With two teams entering action on three-game losing skids and still trying to find footing midway through the year, it was one of those games - especially in the Big 5 - where, quite simply, someone had to win. 

And in a game that featured lengthy runs on both sides, Saint Joseph’s ended up being that team, holding off the University of Pennsylvania, 78-71, at the Palestra Saturday night.

St. Joe's, the official home team on the ticket at the Palestra, led by as many as 15 in the first half before a 12-1 Quakers run led to a four-point Hawks lead, 35-31, at the break.

Penn got a hold of the lead, 36-35, with an early second half spurt but the Hawks, led by Lamarr Kimble’s 23 points (13 in the second half), were able to make more plays and pick up their first win in two weeks.

The loss was the Quakers’ fourth straight. They’ve yet to win in 2017.

Joining Kimble in double figures for the Hawks were Charlie Brown (career-high 19 points), James Demery (15) and Chris Clover (10).

Penn was paced by Matt Howard’s 19 points. Freshman Ryan Betley had 15, including a couple key threes.

Betley’s corner triple got the Quakers within four, 66-62, with 2:44 left.

But the Hawks scored the next four to seize control.

Turning point
In a close second half looking for a turning point, perhaps a whistle was the moment the game turned.

Late in the shot clock, with the Hawks clinging to a six-point lead, Kimble rose up from deep and was fouled by Jackson Donahue of Penn. All Quakers coach Steve Donahue could do was walk quietly to the other end of his bench in disgust. Kimble made 2 of 3 to push the St. Joe's lead to 70-62 with a little more than a minute to go.

A stop, which Penn would have had if Kimble wasn’t fouled, and the Quakers would have had a chance to cut it to a two-possession game with a manageable clock.

What it means
St. Joe’s, now 51-35 all-time against Penn, needed a confidence booster as it turns back to the crowded Atlantic 10.

Penn is still trying to find the right rotations to win games.

Inside the box score
Penn took 18 shots from beyond the arc in the first half. The Quakers made four of them. They made four on 14 threes in the second half.

Off turnovers, Penn outscored St. Joe’s, 17-4.

The Hawks won the battle in the paint, 36-18.

Penn had 32 fouls as a team and had two players (Tyler Hamilton and Betley) foul out.

Kimble, coming off a nine turnover game, went 9-11 from the free-throw line and had five assists against two turnovers.

Up next
St. Joe’s gets back into A-10 play Tuesday at St. Bonaventure before hosting La Salle next Saturday on City Ave.

Penn plays at La Salle Wednesday before a tough Ivy League road weekend the following weekend at Harvard and Dartmouth to kick off February.

Instant Replay: Devils 4, Flyers 1

ap-michal-neuvirth-flyers-devils.jpg
Associated Press

Instant Replay: Devils 4, Flyers 1

BOX SCORE

Not even a five-day break in the schedule could save the Flyers from themselves.

Some costly penalties, even costlier mistakes, added up to their fifth loss in six games Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center as the New Jersey Devils torched them, 4-1.

The Devils scored two goals in the final four minutes of the second period to turn a tie game into a 3-1 lead. 

Michal Neuvirth started the game but was relieved by Steve Mason to start the third period. 

This was the first of a back-to-back games. The Flyers came into play 7-4-0 in the first games of such this season. They now have 50 points with a record of 22-19-6.

They went into the break getting burned 5-0 by Washington.

1st goal
Flyers allowed the first tally for the ninth time in 10 games as Pavel Zacha scored off a juicy rebound in the slot off the backhand for an early 1-0 Devils lead.

Notable goals
Kyle Palmieri scored the go-ahead goal in the second period off a 5-on-3 power play after a horrendous clipping call on Radko Gudas from referee Dan O’Halloran (see video), followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to Wayne Simmonds for arguing the call. The entire game changed after that call.

Goalie report
Neuvirth was making his first start since Jan. 14 in Boston when he gave up five goals.

Power play
Couple chances on the first one for the Flyers and Travis Konecny ripped it off the crossbar. He made good on the next power play, jamming the puck under Keith Kinkaid to tie the game at 1-1 just after the PP ended. Overall, the first unit wasn’t very good in this game and the second unit had the goal. Officially, the power play went 0 for 6.

Penalty kill
After yielding five goals over the previous four games, the PK units settled down and killed three straight before the Devils scored off a 5-on-3 power play, then got another power play goal in the third period as well. Devils were 2 for 7.

Injuries
Gudas went hard into the back boards after a takedown from Miles Wood in the first period but seemed OK.

Fights
Wayne Simmonds improved to 2-0-1 after a bout with Wood (see video).

Scratches
This was Game 47 – the first time all season the Flyers have had an entirely healthy lineup. Defensemen Brandon Manning and Nick Schultz (both healthy); forward Dale Weise (healthy).

Up next
This is the 12th set of back-to-back games for the Flyers. They face the Islanders on Sunday night in Brooklyn. They will play 18 sets this season.