76ers are on the court right now at AmericanAirlines Arena. They have this one practice session, and then tomorrow morning's shoot around, before Monday night's second game against the Miami Heat. Miami won Game 1 of this first-round, best-of-seven series on Saturday afternoon, defeating the Sixers by 97-89.
Sixers coach Doug Collins has discussed at length the importance of making adjustments between games and today is that day. Here are a few observations/potential changes the Sixers should address:
1.) The production of Andre Iguodala. OK, so this isn't an X's and O's change, but it could be the most important upgrade the Sixers can make. It's not acceptable for Iguodala to score 4 points on 2 for 7 shooting in a close playoff game. No one is overlooking Iguodala's stellar supporting numbers: assists, rebounds, quality defense against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But the Sixers can't have 40 to 42 dead offensive minutes from Iguodala. One basket in the first quarter and one in the third? Can't happen. Iguodala needs to score between 12-17 points during each game of this series. On Saturday afternoon, Iguodala missed a transition opportunity early and a three pointer from the top of the key late in the game. He finishes those two plays and he's already working with 9 points -- much closer to what this team needs from him offensively -- and the Sixers are in an entirely different position during the final 2 minutes of this game. Iguodala carries himself and speaks like he's a tested veteran in this league, speaking from a position of sweeping observation, but he's never won a playoff series. And that's almost certainly going to continue if he doesn't begin finishing a few more plays each half (realistically, even if he does up his contribution, that still won't be enough, but it'll make each game more competitive).
2.) Patch something together with their interior play. Miami dominated the boards and Collins was forced to go away from starting center Spencer Hawes because he was ineffective and in foul trouble. Collins played Marreese Speights for 12 minutes, Tony Battie for a few, and went small for long stretches. Speights is an interesting option during this series. On Saturday, he still committed some poor defensive plays, and he couldn't finish some really good opportunities, but you can see that he might be able to add something during this series. His presence won't change the rebounding differential, though, and Collins needs Hawes to hit one of his good streaks. The Sixers best play of the season has come when Hawes can be a steady contributor for 25-plus minutes. Maybe Speights can work in for a chunk each half, nail a few jumpers, etc. This is all a roundabout explanation, but it comes back to Hawes: Sixers can't compete if they're patch-working the center position all game. Hawes has to be productive.
3.) Remove Andres Nocioni from the rotation. Something interesting happened in the first half of Saturday's game. Collins sent Nocioni to the scorer's table to check into the game and then changed his mind. It was an embarrassing moment for Nocioni (he hadn't yet played a minute) and it seemed like Collins sensed that he'd made a mistake in sending Nocioni to the table and then calling him back. A minute later, Collins sent Nocioni in again, removing Thaddeus Young from the game after he'd played only 2 or 3 minutes. It was the most confusing substitution of the year and it kicked off a game where Collins routinely went to Nocioni, revealing quite clearly that Nocioni is not the answer. We shouldn't see him in Game 2.
4.) The free throw situation. I'm sure most fans want to blame the NBA and the referees, believing that the NBA has conspired to make sure the Heat win this series, but let's get real. Miami's go-to guys are Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, two of the most physical players in the league. Whereas the Sixers have Iguodala and Thaddeus Young as a couple of their key guys and both those guys try to slip around contact. First, the Sixers need to give harder fouls. Too many times the Heat were given the opportunity for old-fashioned three-point plays. That essentially gave away five or six points. Sixers have to either foul hard and keep the basket from falling, or give up the basket entirely. The in between is hurting them. Second, and this will aid the free throw disparity more, the Sixers need Iguodala and Lou Williams to draw contact and tack on points at the line. On Saturday, Jrue Holiday did a great job offensively (his performance was promising for the future), but Iguodala and Williams are the guys that can help balance this situation. It's never going to be entirely even because, quite simply, the Heat are more physical and more forceful going toward the basket.
Sixers are practicing for a couple of hours today and the series continues Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
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