There are a lot of people who are already talking about Saturday's Game 7. No Dwight Howard. No Courtney Lee. That should equal an easy 76ers victory tonight, shouldn't it? Two starters gone from Orlando's lineup, 36 points per game, 18 rebounds. It's an interesting position for the Sixers. Through five playoff games, they've been the underdog, not expected to win a game. Now, after a couple of Howard elbows, they are presented with this: A should-win game, an elimination game that, if Orlando wins, would be quite an embarrassing way to end this season.
For the first time in this series, there is all kinds of pressure on the Sixers and none on the Magic.
There seem to be two options at each position for the Magic. To replace Lee, either J.J. Redick or Mickael Pietrus. To replace Howard, either Tony Battie or Marcin Gortat. *Update: Redick and Gortat will start.
We've seen all four of these guys off and on this series. Some thoughts.
1.) If Pietrus gets the bulk of the minutes tonight, maybe shifts to the small forward spot at times, keep on eye on his defense of Andre Iguodala. Throughout this series, when he's guarded Iguodala -- when Hedo Turkoglu rests -- he has been very effective on Iguodala. He seems to have no help responsibilities and he's very physical with Iguodala. The Sixers might be getting a break with Lee's offense missing, but Pietrus is an improved defensive option. Redick? Not so much. Willie Green should score anytime he wants against Redick. But the one thing with the former Dukie that he has shown in all his minutes this series (and all his life?) that he will shoot the ball -- all the time. So far, he's shot it poorly. But we've all watched Redick, for the better part of this decade, go on streaks and make 4 or 5 three-pointers in a row. The Sixers have kept the Magic's three-point shooting at bay. Tonight can't be the night that effort goes by the wayside.
With Redick on the floor, Sixers coach Tony DiLeo said the Sixers would go after him on the perimeter, but only "in the flow" of the offense, that they won't go out of their way to isolate Redick outside.
2.) Howard missing. All right, so that's going to be a gaping hole for the Magic. But let's remember that in Game 2, in the last 3 minutes after Howard fouled out, the Magic grabbed a handful of killer offensive rebounds. They came from Pietrus, Gortat, Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, etc. They did not come from Howard. It was that game that Howard had his worst game of the series, and the Sixers lost by double digits. So ....
So you would expect Samuel Dalembert to make his presence felt. That's what you would expect. He'll be playing two backup NBA centers, so he really should dominate the paint tonight. He should have 15 rebounds -- at least. I think a huge portion of this game rests on Dalembert's shoulders: Is he still going to pick up two early fouls, is he going to dominate like he should? Your guess is as good as mine. Really.
One other thing to watch is Thaddeus Young on Rashard Lewis, and Lewis dominating him on the block. DiLeo said this was because Young was in foul trouble last game, but I still think it's worth watching to see if Lewis will take Young to the block and continue to make those little 5-footers. Lewis and Turkoglu will be getting the bulk of Howard's shots. Given these guys haven't been great this series, that could be a good thing. But, also, given these guys have yet to be great, and might start being great, and given a lot of their makes will count for 3 points, and given they will shoot 80 percent from the free throw line, you never know.
I just asked DiLeo if Dalembert should dominate tonight. He avoided mentioning Sam's performance specifically, saying only that "the Sixers" should dominate the lane.
Those are just a few thoughts. We all know the Sixers should win this game. They know they should win this game. Let's hope that doesn't become a problem. DiLeo said he didn't even address the issue of overconfidence with his team. He said this is the playoffs, not a regular season game. They are focused.
Also of note, this game should draw about the same crowd as the first two, which means about 4,000 empty seats -- and that's using the Sixers attendance numbers.
One more thing ... If you want to read how Dwight Howard feel's about this suspension, click here: Howard blog.