NBA Handicapping: Can Sixers Continue to Shine?
by Trevor Whenham - 5/11/2012
The NBA Playoffs rarely produce totally unexpected first-round results, so on some level it’s refreshing that we have seen the top team in the regular season — the Bulls — fall to the 76ers in their first-round matchup. In just six games, no less.
The gigantic asterisk beside the result, of course, is that reigning MVP Derrick Rose missed all but the first game due to a knee injury. To use that to explain this result, though, isn’t being fair to Philadelphia. Chicago had played without Rose a whole lot this year, and had looked pretty good doing it. They were more than capable of outplaying the Sixers short-handed.
Philadelphia stuck to their game plan, though, and was able to frustrate, confound and confuse the Bulls en route to the win. Impressive.
The question now, of course, is whether Philadelphia has any more fuel in the tank. Can they find a way to shock another opponent or two — starting with the Celtics on Saturday — or are their 15 minutes of fame about to come crashing to an end.
For bettors this is especially important.
Philadelphia delivered massive profits to bettors who believed in them up to this point, and could continue to do so — but only if they win.
So, can they? Here’s a look:
The NHL re-seeds their playoff bracket after each round, but the NBA hasn’t taken that logical step. That means that the Sixers are lucky enough to get to play Boston instead of Miami in the second round. That is obviously a massive benefit, and greatly increases their chances of winning another round. The Celtics are far from the youngest team in the playoffs — dramatically older than the Sixers — and they are coming off a tough series against the Hawks.
Philadelphia doesn’t need to be intimidated at all by this matchup. For one, Philadelphia came out on top in two of the three meetings between the teams — and did so by 32 and 13 points. There are legitimate excuses for Boston in both games — the first loss came on the second night of a back-to-back for Boston after overtime the night before, and the second loss was the last of an eight-game road trip for the Celtics and again the second game in as many nights. Still, those excuses expose the age and stamina issues that loom large over this team, so the results can’t be entirely discounted.
Boston’s biggest asset is a commitment to defense. Chicago was the only team in the entire league that allowed fewer than Boston’s 89.3 points per game. Philadelphia has a good answer for that, though — their 89.4 points allowed was third best. Boston’s biggest edge isn’t going to be a big edge here.
These are the two lowest scoring offenses in the entire playoffs, with Philadelphia having just a slight edge over the Celtics over the regular season at 93.6 points per game compared to 91.8. Neither team has matched that paltry production in the playoffs — Philadelphia is only averaging 86 points per game. When you look at it closer it’s even more concerning — they won two games despite scoring only 79 points each game, and lost game five after scoring just 69. Given that they are facing another defense almost as good as Chicago’s that’s a real concern going forward.
Beyond how many points they have scored is how they carry themselves from game to game. When they are able to assert themselves early on in the game then they find their offensive confidence and can ride that to success. When the opponent is able to smack the Sixers in the face early on, though, the team gets too tentative, they begin to question themselves, and they let the opponent set the tone.
The Celtics may be old, but they are massively more experienced than the Sixers. If Philadelphia lets Boston take the lead and set the tone in this game then the Celtics will absolutely take advantage. Head Coach Doug Collins has to find a way to make sure his players are aggressive and confident early on or the brick wall of Boston’s defense will be the difference maker here and Philadelphia’s unlikely run will end.
There is no single difference-maker on this team offensively outside, perhaps, of Jrue Holiday — the point guard has 18.2 points per game in these playoffs, with four others averaging between 11.5 and 12.8. That depth and balance is what makes this team reasonably hard to defend — though they would be harder if they were not just balanced but explosive.
Of those four guys essentially equal in production the one that is having the biggest impact is Turner. The second year shooting guard and his coach aren’t always on the same page, and Turner started only 20 of 65 games this season. In the playoffs, though, Collins has thankfully realized that this team is better when Turner starts and plays the majority of the game. He’s very tough for opposing guards to match up against, and his strong ball handling skill adds versatility to the backcourt.
Turner has not yet had the breakout that you would hope for from a second overall pick, but he is a very capable and rapidly-maturing player, and is very capable of stepping up and being the difference in this series.
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