Time: 6:00 PM Central Standard Time
Place: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
TV: FS Oklahoma HD
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), KMEZ 106.7 FM
Enemy Blog(s): Liberty Ballers
Think fast - who is the best defensive team in the NBA?
Boston? Miami? San Antonio?
Yielding only 87.5 points per game, the Sixers are currently the stingiest defense around, and they have used it to propel themselves into first place in the Atlantic Division. While they recently went through a five game slide, all five of those losses were to potential playoff teams. The extended break that the team received via the All-Star weekend is probably just what the team needed in order to regain its focus, and they took out the Pistons in resounding fashion. Defensively, this team is the real deal. They are young and athletic, as aggressive on the perimeter as Miami, and less prone to mistakes than a team like the Thunder.
So why the five losses in a row and a recent skid? What will enable the Thunder to capitalize on the Sixers' recent shortcomings? Take it away Zach Lowe:
...Doug Collins has crafted a unique means of trying to solve that issue [of scoring] this season. The Sixers have turned the ball over on just 10.3 percent of their possessions. That would be the lowest - i.e., best - turnover rate in league history if it stands up. A team that lacks a single knockout offensive player has tried to compensate in part by making sure they at least get a shot off on every possession.
The risk-adverse strategy has a downside: Philadelphia does not get to the foul line...
The Sixers rely on precise motion, constant cutting and vigorous ball-movement in order to generate decent looks from the mid-range. When that motion gets even a little bit stale, Philadelphia struggles to score.
As a result of this low-risk offensive system, the Sixers are only scoring 94 points per game and barely over 83 during this recent losing streak. To be sure, those losses have come against smart defensive teams like the Mavericks and Grizzlies, but here is what is most interesting in those two games in particular - Philly managed 75 and 76 points respectively, but that was even with only turning over the ball 20 times combined. In other words, they weren't failing to score because of turnovers, they were failing to score because the Mavs & Grizz were defending them for the full shot clock and did not surrender easy baskets or offensive rebounds (and Philly will be missing their starting center Spencer Hawes for at least two more weeks).
While this analysis should be promising for the high-scoring Thunder, it does come with risk as well. One of the Thunder's biggest weaknesses has been their inability to concentrate through entire defensive possessions on a consistent basis. On top of that, even when they do have defensive success, they are giving up a high number of offensive rebounds. So while the Sixers aren't going to hit the Thunder with aggressive scorers like the Warriors or Spurs, they are going to test the young team's patience. As we saw against the Celtics, the Thunder have struggled in their defensive focus against even mediocre offensive teams.
Tonight's game is going to be an excellent contrast in styles between two young teams - one wants to force mistakes, get steals and run, and the other wants to slow things down and wait for mistakes from its opposition. If the Thunder can exercise the same patience as the Sixers, OKC's talent will prevail. If OKC fails to do so, Philly is going to figure out a way to stick around until the end, and with the home crowd at their back, could be primed for the mini-upset.
Prediction: Thunder 102, 76ers 98