After back-to-back home victories, the Philadelphia 76ers (9-6) travel to Charlotte to take on the Bobcats (7-7) in hope of three consecutive wins for the third time this season. The Sixers are 3-2 in foreign settings, while Charlotte has won five of eight at home.
The Bobcats may be one of the most curious teams in the entire NBA. Charlotte was only able to manage seven wins during the entirety of the 2011-12 season, a feat they have already matched in only 14 games. Additions like Brendan Haywood, Ramon Sessions and sharpshooter Ben Gordon, combined with strong play from starting rookies Jeffrey Taylor and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have made this Bobcats team relevant for the first time. And the most curious part about it is that Charlotte is playing without their best player from last season in high-flying Philly native Gerald Henderson.
In terms of other injuries, Philadelphia’s Spencer Hawes and Charlotte’s Biyombo are listed as day-to-day, but are both projected to play tonight.
With Henderson out (foot), Vanderbilt’s Jeffrey Taylor assumes the starting role at shooting guard. The Bobcats are led offensively by a talented point guard duo in Kemba Walker and Sessions, who average a cumulative 33 points and 9.9 assists per game, accounting for more than half of Charlotte’s points in a given game. The Bobcats have shot 40.7% from the field collectively; good for fourth worst in the NBA, but they rebound decently with guys like Haywood, Byron Mullens, and backups Tyrus Thomas and Bismack Biyombo. In their last game, a loss to Atlanta, veteran Gordon showed he still had the scoring stroke, hitting 7 for 10 from beyond the arc for 26 points.
The Bobcats are letting up over 100 points per game so far this season. Our beloved Sixers on the other hand continue to be efficient defensively, and are holding opponents to a league minimum 87.4 points per game as the visiting team.
Jrue Holiday has been fantastic this season, but it’s been multi-faceted Evan Turner who has really stepped up recently. E.T. has averaged 22.3 points, six rebounds and four assists per game in his last three games, shooting over 50% from the field and hitting 5 of 11 attempted three-pointers. Thaddeus Young has played admirably as well with 69 points in his last three games, and he continues to lead the Sixers in rebounding (as a Small Forward).
Meanwhile, after his 33 point-13 assist-2 turnover performance against Phoenix, Holiday turned the ball over six times Tuesday against Dallas. Turnovers have really been the only downside in an otherwise exceptional season for Jrue. Let’s hope Jrue ceases to lead the NBA in that stat sometime in the near future.
This shouldn’t be the hardest one for the Sixers, but any game can be lost, thus, here are my Keys to the game:
Contain the Point Guards. Kemba Walker and Ramon Sessions are the backbone of this Bobcats team. First thing to note, starter Kemba Walker is below average defensively (just because he gets steals doesn’t mean he can play D) and is almost half a foot shorter than Holiday. It will be interesting to see how Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap tries to hide him on defense to avoid mismatches. If Walker winds up being exploited on the defensive end, expect Sessions to get more minutes than usual tonight.
Offensively, while both of these guys will have trouble with Holiday’s length, both Walker and Sessions are very good at using their quickness to create space or get to the rim. It will be the job of the Sixers as a team to prevent these two from tearing up the defense and drawing fouls. The Bobcats don’t have many players that can create their own on offense, and with these two locked down the rest of their squad will struggle to score.
Attack the Basket. This Bobcats team is relatively average defending around the rim. With guys like Haywood and Mullens, who are below average (though you may not have said so about Haywood earlier in his career), guys like Thad and Turner will have space to attack the rim and either get fouled or find a quick pass after a defensive slide.
Philadelphia expects to get their tenth win of the season tonight in Charlotte, and so do we. See you there at 7pm.
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