We saw this a year ago: A 2-1 series lead, a home game to bust it open, a challenge against a much higher seed.
But, somehow, this series feels different. Should it? Will it? The 76ers have said they have not talked about last season's first-round loss to the Detroit Pistons. They said this Sixers team is a completely different team from last year's, especially with the veteran, experienced presence of Theo Ratliff and Donyell Marshall.
We'll find out tonight. To this point, the Orlando Magic have looked little like a 59-win team. They have looked average, perhaps even worse than average. Tonight is the game where the Magic will either show up, knock down 12-15 three-pointers and dominate offensively, or the Sixers will keep doing what they're doing and make this their series with a 3-1 lead. A few things to watch:
1.) Stan Van Gundy: In the post-game press conference on Friday night after Game 3, Van Gundy shook his head and said it was his responsibility to get better shots for Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. Van Gundy sounded like a guy who spent all day yesterday looking at the game film and plotting a few options. In the first three games, these two guys just haven't done enough to make the Magic win. Van Gundy said the big issue was the way the Sixers are playing Turkoglu off the pick-and-roll: The Sixers are trapping him, not allowing him to create much off the dribble. Van Gundy said he didn't think those two guys needed to explode for the Magic to win, citing the fact that both Sixers wins went to the final possession. So watch Turkoglu and Lewis. Sixers coach Tony DiLeo said they will start the game with the same defensive scheme they have used the first three games (focusing on those two, leaving Orlando's guards and Dwight Howard to beat them). DiLeo also said that if the Magic present some different offensive options, the Sixers have a few different ways to guard guys that they will employ. (I figure this means guarding the pick-and-roll differently, perhaps a harder hedge, or a switch.)
2.) Orlando's three-point shooting. We've said it before and we'll say it again: The Magic have shot poorly from beyond the arc this entire series. Will tonight be the game they start making shots?
3.) I really think Andre Miller is going to be the difference tonight. He's played very well so far and taken advantage of his post-up ability on either of Orlando's guards (Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston). I think in the first three games, especially the last game, Andre Iguodala has shot very well from the perimeter, a few shots falling that might not normally fall. I think tonight it could be Miller's steady game -- maybe 25 points -- that bring the Sixers through on offense.
4.) Free throws. For both teams, this should be an important stat. Orlando center Dwight Howard has shot free throws much more efficiently than usual. That could drop to normal. Iguodala has missed so many big free throws down the stretch -- and a decent number during the games. For the series, the Sixers have left a lot of points on the board from the free throw line.
So the recipe for a Sixers win: continued defense on Turkoglu and Lewis -- limit them to a combined point total of fewer than 28 points. Hold Orlando to 7 or fewer three-pointers. Strong scoring from Andre Miller and at least 75 percent free-throw shooting. Okay, so that's a recipe for victory on a lot of nights, but I would be surprised to see the same Orlando team we've seen the first three days. There's no way a 59-win team doesn't have the resolve to find a way to score.