It’s the Larry Brown Bowl tonight in Philly as the Philadelphia 76ers take on the Indiana Pacers at the Wells Fargo Center in a potential playoff preview. Both superstar-less squads have been “playing the right way” (LB’s mantra) all season.
The Sixers (5-2), who currently lead the league in point differential with a +12.5 mark, begin a stretch of three games in three nights. Although their shooting percentages have come back down to earth (Lou Williams is 0-8 in threes in his last three games), the Sixers have played extremely well defensively. They currently lead the league in fewest points allowed (85.6 ppg) and field goal defense (39.5%). The Sixers are fourth in defensive efficiency, giving up 94.2 points per 100 possessions, according to Hoopdata.com.
The Pacers (6-2), like the Sixers, are winning with balance and depth thanks to seven players averaging double figures. Indiana’s key free agent signing, PF David West, gives this young Pacers team the veteran-leadership and rugged rebounding it desperately needed last season. West is the perfect front court compliment to C Roy Hibbert.
I don’t expect either team to reach 100 points tonight. Danny Granger is struggling with his shot right now (41.8 TS%), but his defensive numbers are pretty amazing. According to MySynergySports, Granger is allowing .52 points per possession, 24.4% FG% and forced 10 turnovers in 54 plays this season. Meanwhile, the Sixers are playing great perimeter defense, ranking first in the NBA in 3-pointers allowed. Both teams are in the top-10 in defensive efficiency. Indiana is seventh in total rebounding rate (51.64%) while the Sixers are currently 11th in TRR at 50.75%. The Pacers have high-motor guys off the bench that have the potential to frustrate the under-sized second unit of the Sixers.
Matchup to watch:
The Hibbert (13.8 ppg,10 rpg) vs Spencer Hawes (12.6 ppg, 10.6rpg) matchup will be the one to watch tonight. It will be interesting to see if Collins plays Hawes away from the basket in more pick and pop situations, forcing the 7’2” Hibbert to play defense closer to the perimeter. Conversely, I expect Hibbert to go after Hawes early, trying to get Hawes in early foul trouble down in the paint. Hibbert is currently shooting 53.1% in the post, according to MySynergySports. The Sixers are a deep team, but lack the size off the bench to D-up Hibbert. Should Hawes find himself in foul trouble, Philadelphia’s fundamentally-sound rookie center, Nikola Vucevic will likely play some spot minutes at center.
Hawes will play tonight despite aggravating his back in Saturday’s blowout win against the Raptors. Danny Granger (food poisoning) and George Hill (ankle) will be game-time decisions.