It's been lurking around the corner all year, like some weird mixture of
Finals Week, tax season and your 40th birthday, and now here we finally
are: The Sixers' deadly stretch of seven games against teams with
winning records, including the top two teams in the East (Miami and
Chicago), both L.A. teams, the always-tough San Antonio and the
occasionally-tough Atlanta. It's the toughest stretch, at least on
paper, that the Sixers should have all season, and it's why it's been a
good thing that the team has built up as many W's as they have against
the league's crappy competition—wins might be a little harder to come by
these next few weeks.
That said, it won't be impossible, and
tonight's matchup against the Magic might be one the Sixers can get the
better of. Orlando is a team in freefall at the moment, having lost each
of their last three games and four of their last five, including two
humiliating losses to the Boston Celtics (in one of which they only
scored eight points in the fourth quarter, in the other of which they
only scored 56 points total) and an even-worse 26-point blowout at the
hands of the lowly New Orleans Hornets. After the latter, team leader
and All-World center Dwight Howard called out his teammates for not
trying: "I look at guys and they don't look like they want to play...I
told them at halftime, `If you don't want to play, just stay in the
locker room, because it don't make sense for a team who we should beat
to just demolish us.'"
Seems like a pretty good time to catch the Magic, for sure. But don't be
thinking this game is gonna be a cinch—Howard always gives the Sixers
fits, and though our starting center Spencer Hawes is supposed to play
tonight for the first time in nine games (UPDATE: Hawes is out, Vuc will dress but playing time tbd, if any), his minutes will be limited,
and it'll be hard to stay out of foul trouble against Dwight anyway. I
probably don't need to remind you how thin the Sixers' interior is after
Spence, either—Nik Vucevic is still out, and good as Lavoy Allen has
been on offense lately, hands up if you think he has a chance of
shutting down Superman II in the post. Yeah.
The good news is that beyond Dwight, the Magic are most reliant on their
three-point shooting—they both attempt and make the second-most 3's in
the league—and shutting that down happens to be something of a specialty
for the Sixers, who rank second themselves in opponents' three-point
field goal percentage, at 28.7%. What's more, the Magic will be without
starting point guard and Philly hometown favorite Jameer Nelson—though
given his unbelievably crummy play this year (scoring in double-digits
in just 5 of 18 games, assisting in double-digits in 0 of 18), that
might not be such a bad thing for Orlando.
7:00 tip from the WFC. "We know we've got some great teams coming in,"
said Coach Collins of the team's upcoming stretch, six of seven of which
are to be played at home. "We've just got to be ready to play."
They'll need more than readiness to beat some of these teams, but get
through this set of games with three or four wins, and we should be
sitting pretty in the Atlantic from here out. Time to get happy.