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Preview: Sixers @ Rockets

Fresh off a high profile game that will have them a much needed confidence boost, the Rockets head home to take on a struggling 76ers team. Like Houston’s previous opponents, Philadelphia have been missing their two best players: Jrue Holiday (sprained right foot) and of course Andrew Bynum (bowling ball to knee). The 76ers are currently saddled with a 4 game losing streak, the most recent of which was last night against Dallas. Bearing in mind the injury situation and the schedule, it’s a pretty good time to be hosting this particular matchup. The Rockets need to capitalise on home games while they have them because their home-heavy early schedule is running out – between Christmas Day and the end of January they will play 15 of their 22 games on the road.

Lineups:

It’s still up in the air as to whether Holiday will play tonight. Without him they are lacking in depth at the point guard position to the extent that they don’t play a traditional point guard in their starting lineup. Royal Ivey and Maalik Wayns are the only legitimate PGs on the roster, the former a defensive specialist who has bounced around the league for the past 8 seasons, the latter a rookie who is just starting to get some playing time in Holiday’s absence. Neither are guys you would want to rely on for significant periods of time, so coach Doug Collins has elected to give Evan Turner the starting point-guard job until Holiday returns. On the wings, Nick Young has been promoted to the starting lineup alongside Jason Richardson. Dorell Wright will keep the three pointers coming off the bench, and veteran Damien Wilkins will get some spot minutes too.

The bigs rotation is lacking a certain 7 foot tall former Laker, and it shows. Thaddeus Young is the highlight, providing excellent versatility as an SF/PF tweener. Despite measuring only 6′ 5.75” he is a capable post defender, and couples that with strong ball handling skills and great speed for a 4 man. They’ll start with Kwame Brown at centre, who after all these years needs little introduction. His backup is Lavoy Allen, who at 6’9” is another undersized frontcourt player. After a promising campaign as a rookie he has stuttered a bit this year. He began the year as the starting centre but has lost that position as the season wore on (probably because it’s difficult to play him and Young at the same time). Spencer Hawes will also make an appearance as a stretch 4 off the bench. In the past Hawes has been used as a Centre, but given his penchant for jump shooting the PF is probably a more natural position for him.

For the Rockets, Patterson continues to be out with a bone bruise and Morris will take over the starting PF position in his absence. But given that Hawes is listed at 7’1” (the article linked to above claims he’s actually 6’10”), it may require someone with a bit more size. This looks like a game in which we may see more of Terrence Jones than usual. Other than that the Rockets are at full strength and we should see the by now standard rotation in all the other positions: Lin/Douglas at PG, Harden/Parsons/Delfino at the wings and Asik/Smith at C.

On Offence:

Jrue Holiday has a reputation as a very good defender (incidentally, this is one of the most impressive blocks I’ve ever seen), and in his absence the Sixers have regressed defensively, giving up 113 points per 100 possessions. A key problem they’ve been facing is an inability to defend the three point shot, which plays quite nicely into the Rockets’ hands. This has primarily been as a result of ball movement falling dribble penetration, which can be explained by two key factors: (1) in their big starting unit without Holiday they don’t really have anyone with the quickness to stay in front of opposing point guards, and (2) there are several players in the lineup, most notably Nick Young, who just aren’t great on their defensive rotations. If Lin can continue to provide the aggression he showed against the Knicks, then this should be a weakness the Rockets can exploit continually throughout the game.

On the inside, Kwame Brown has developed into a reasonable approximation of a post defender, but his rebounding numbers are abysmal. After getting very little to show in the rebound column against Tyson Chandler, Asik will have a chance to bounce back here and should be able to dominate the boards. The Rockets should avoid the temptation to try to post up Thaddeus Young too often – he may be undersized, but that doesn’t mean that attacking him on the block is an efficient option. Fortunately without Patterson this shouldn’t be happening too often anyway.

On Defence:

Evan Turner has been running the offence in Holiday’s absence, and by all accounts he has not been doing a very good job of it. He doesn’t provide the same level of ball movement, and what’s more with Nick Young in the game more often there are going to be more Swaggy-P isos that grind the offence to a halt. When Wayns played against Dallas the offence looked a lot more fluent, so we might see some more of that tonight.

The Sixers looked to be thinking about overhauling their offence in the offseason. Last year they were notable for designing their game around the mid-range jumper, but they’ve brought in several three point gunners (Richardson, Wright, the aforementioned Young), in a bid to move that range back a few paces to bring the three point line into play. Surprisingly though, it’s not really worked as they are only taking 17.7 three pointers per game (good for 24th in the league).

Turner has a tendency to take low percentage shots that can be exploitable, especially if his man is willing to leak out on the break. Both Harden and Parsons are adept at this, and in a happy coincidence they are the ones who are most likely to be guarding him. Similarly, you can count on Nick Young to force up several ill-advised shots per game, though you have to be careful because he is a streaky shooter who can sometimes catch fire.

Thaddeus Young is sneakily efficient around the basket, so it will be incumbent on whoever is at the four to pay attention to him. Given how badly Morris was exploited by the relatively unknown Chris Copeland on Monday, this may be a point of concern. Another potential issue is that if the Sixers go big in the backcourt there isn’t anyone obvious for the Rockets’ PG to guard. Of their starters, Nick Young is 6’7”, Jason Richardson is 6’6” and Evan Turner is 6’7”. Both Lin and Douglas should be expecting to be on the receiving end of more than a couple of post-ups this evening.

There’s no real scoring threat inside for Philidelphia. Hawes is the most prolific of their big men, but he is more of an outside shooter (he’s actually up to 36% from three on the year). Neither Brown nor Allen has much of an inside game, which should allow Asik to roam a bit. After a string of subpar defensive efforts, it would be a nice morale boost to be able to notch up a reasonable performance at this end, and a focused Asik will be a major part of that.

Summary:

The Rockets have strengths in areas of their opponents’ weakness, and against a struggling Sixers team that is riddled with injuries, that should be enough to pull out a useful win at home.

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