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It's been a back-and-forth early season schedule for the 76ers. It continues with tonight's game against the winless New Jersey Nets at the Wachovia Center. The Sixers are 2-2, with wins over the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks and blowout losses to the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics. The Nets are 0-5.
Looking at the Nets roster right now, they're struggling with a ton of injuries. The most important -- certainly considering how well this guy played last season against the Sixers -- is the strained right groin of point guard Devin Harris. Harris always gives the Sixers trouble because he's dynamite off the pick-and-roll and clever getting to the rim. Also out for the Nets is forward Yi Jianlian, forward-center Tony Battie, guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, forward Jarvis Hayes, and guard Keyon Dooling. In other words, the Nets are going to have 9 players tonight, the Sixers 12. In more specific other words, the Sixers should win tonight. Anything else would be a bigger embarrassment than Tuesday night's 31-point loss to the Boston Celtics.
Here's what it's looking like for the Nets:
Starting lineup: Point guard Rafer Alston, guard Courtney Lee, forward Terrence Williams, forward Eduardo Najera, and center Brook Lopez.
When Najera is your starting forward, well ...
Last year, Sixers center Samuel Dalembert struggled to guard Lopez, so that'll be a matchup to watch. Just talked to Samuel about this matchup and he said last year he was seeing what the then-rookie (Lopez) could do, sort of testing him. A minute later, talking to Eddie Jordan, Jordan said, "If that's an excuse ..." and then went on to say that even in the pre-season games, Lopez was a beast and he would be a key matchup tonight. Jordan said that Dalembert "was ready" to defend Lopez. Terrence Williams is a monster in transition. In the Sixers final preseason game in Queens, Williams had a trio of dunks off of steals. He's fun to watch, as well, although I'd be surprised if the Sixers don't control this game.
Here's a couple of interesting things to watch tonight, if you're now paying attention to the 76ers after the Phillies run, and if you're watching tonight on Comcast:
1.) Thaddeus Young. He's struggled so far this season, and this after such a strong beginning to last season. His numbers are decent (14.3 ppg on 42.9 percent shooting), but if you've been watching, you've noticed something is off. It seems to be his outside shot. It appears he's just shooting too quickly. When he has shots, he's not taking his time and lining them up, but rather getting them up before everything is in line. Right now he's 1 for 10 from the three-point line. I'd expect him to make 2 or 3 tonight, because he's a solid outside shooter and we know he worked on that shot this summer. He just seems too anxious. Look for him to slow it down a little bit tonight. Just talked to Young and he said the number will come back up and that's it a product of the entire team not yet feeling comfortable with what they're doing on offense. He said he's going to focus on slowing down and being certain of his mechanics on those long-range shots.
2.) The three-pointer. Both teams are wicked bad (yeah, wicked) from beyond the arc. The Nets are shooting 26.3 percent (15 for 57) and the Sixers are shooting 28.3 percent (17 for 60). I'd look for the Sixers to get going a little bit from the outside. Not that it's going to be insanely difficult to score on a depleted Nets team, but look for Kapono to make a couple, Young to make a couple, Iguodala to get one. Sixers need to use this game to get things going, to start to feel comfortable within the offense.
3.) First guard off the bench. We wrote about this yesterday in the Inquirer: Jordan said he's still looking for one of his four reserve guards to distinguish himself as the 8th man in the rotation (Speights is first big man, Kapono first mid-sized guy). The four guys are Willie Green, Royal Ivey, Rodney Carney, and Jrue Holiday. I really think Holiday will keep getting more minutes because, right now, Green isn't doing much (he's in a tough spot not knowing where his minutes are coming from) and Ivey is more of a defensive guy ... Holiday, in this spot, has a lot of upside. But keep on eye on how each of these guys do when he gets in the game, because Jordan said he's looking to solidify that 8th spot.
Bottom line, tonight, is this needs to be a victory. There aren't too many games like this in an NBA season: at home, against a winless team missing three key players, including its best player. Sixers need to get a victory going away, dominating from the beginning, and then test themselves on Sunday afternoon against the Detroit Pistons.