Friday, March 2, 2012

76ers keys to a promising second half

The Philadelphia 76ers raced to a sizzling 18-7 start to the season, claiming Atlantic division supremacy in the process. But a recent 1-6 slide has cooled down the thought that this team is ready to contend for an NBA championship. However, the Sixers do have the potential to challenge for a berth in the Conference finals, but they have to get back to playing the style of ball that got them to first place. Here are some keys that may get them back to their winning ways.
Get back to playing lockdown 3 point defense
The Sixers were lauded for playing stellar perimeter defense, particularly from the 3 point line, in the season’s opening months. Led by All-Star Andre Iguodala, the team has held opponents to 31.6% shooting from 3 point land. But during their recent 1-6 slide, they are allowing an average of two more 3 pointers made per game. That’s an extra six points per game that could have reversed narrow losses against Houston, Minnesota, and Oklahoma City. The players have to do a much better job fighting through screens and getting their hands in the faces of shooters. The coaches have to do a better job at identifying the best personnel to negate open perimeter shots, which leads me to my next point.
Making crunch time substitutions with a defensive mindset

Turner defendin LBJ / Courtesy of Bleacherreport

I know, I know. Challenging anything Doug Collins is doing is almost sacrilege. But there have been times where he has sent head-scratching lineups on the floor in crunch time. During the loss at Houston last week, Collins used his best perimeter defenders, Iguodala and Evan Turner, to hold the sharpshooting Kevin Martin to 6 points through 3 quarters. With the Sixers clinging to a slim lead in the waning minutes, Collin re-inserts Jodie Meeks into the game. Martin proceeded to hit three straight 3 pointers over Meeks to help the Rockets get the win. Collins probably made the switch because Meeks had his offensive game going, but that portion of the game required defensive stops. Defense is the team’s strength and going forward, especially when clinging to a late lead, substitution have to be made with that in mind.
Iggy has to lead the 76ers in going to the hole
Get to the rim, free throw line
With Spencer Hawes down and playing two rookies and two AARP members in the frontcourt rotation, the Sixers struggle getting points at the rim. But that’s no excuse for the often lack of aggression and assertion by the perimeter players. This team falls in love with jump shots and refuses to put pressure on the opposing defense by attacking the basket on a consistent basis. This team is dead last in the NBA by only getting 23.9% of their points at the rim. The league average is 30.1% and teams like Chicago, Denver and Miami. They’re also dead last points from free throws at 14.4%, including just 13.8% in home games. These two stats go hand-in-hand. Attacking the rim provides high percentage shots and more free throw attempts. The Sixers have the athletic ball handlers to take defenders to the hole. Why they refuse to do more of it is not only intriguing, but has become detrimental.
Doing these things may not bring a parade down Broad St., but their ability will be maximized which will translate into wins. Hell, if all else fails they could always trade for James Harden, amnesty Elton Brand and sign Dwight Howard this offseason. We can dream, can’t we?

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