How Do the New Sixers Affect Philly’s Celtics Problems?

I’ve always rationalized last year’s embarrassing 2nd round loss to the Celtics as the product of rookie mistakes, and had a few key things happened differently it could have been a victory if not at least a competitive series.

And I still believe that, to be extremely frank with you. I think that series really was a turnover, a Belinelli foot being an inch further back, and a Covington 3 or so from being a win. But with all of that said, the Celtics are still, despite all of their drama and struggles, one of the most difficult matchups for the Sixers in the league (result of tonight’s game notwithstanding). It’s not an uncommon take to say that the Sixers would probably be better off against Milwaukee than Boston in a 7-game series.

First things first, though. Let’s talk about why this is. One thing that is clear from this year so far is that the Sixers tend to struggle against teams with guard depth. Brooklyn is a perfect example of this. D’Angelo Russell looks like Steph Curry against them. Spencer Dinwiddie looks like he’s ready for a starting job. Why is this?

I think the Sixers’ guard problems can be traced back to the fact that Simmons is not a traditional point guard (obviously). For as strong and switchable as he is, certain smaller guards, particularly those with good handles and mobility, can give him trouble. Specifically, Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, and players in that vein. I have a feeling Iverson would destroy Simmons. This isn’t counter-intuitive, either: it’s easier to move a 6’1 body than a 6’10 body.

So in that regard, the Sixers are already starting defense mismatched, which leaves some question marks for the rest of the squad. Is Butler better suited for small guards? Is Simmons capable of hanging with true small forwards in Butler’s absence? All of this uncertainty arises from the mismatch created by particularly crafty and slippery guards.

But that isn’t all that works in Boston’s favor over Philly. Big men who can play the perimeter more and drag Embiid out from under the hoop also present a defensive problem. Bigs who can shoot, specifically like Horford, Baynes, and others like Aldridge, weaken Embiid’s incredible ability to protect the rim and abuse his physicality. This displacement of Embiid makes life easier for those small guards, as well, providing them more room to drive and collapse the defense on to them.

So, teams with bigs who can shoot and small, handl-y guards give them trouble historically. But how do the recent acquisitions impact that? For starters, Tobias Harris is a more athletic player than Wilson Chandler, so he’s an upgrade defensively purely from a physical standpoint. However, his pure 3-point shot makes the offense lethal, as you simply account for both Redick and Harris while properly handling Embiid or Simmons down-low. Butler, of course, can kind of play anywhere in between, as well, with great post skills and a respectable jumper.

Underrated, however, is the impact that the new role men in the rotation impact their matchup favor-ability. In last year’s playoffs, the Sixers simply had too many guys who could only hang on one end of the floor. Belinelli could shoot the lights out, but he makes Redick look like a lock-down defender. Covington could handle anyone at the perimeter on D, but went ice-cold from 3. Players were too easy to circumvent on any one side of the court.

However, the new Sixers, such as James Ennis, Mike Scott, and John Simmons, all have the basics covered on both ends of the floor. Simmons has shot poorly as of late, but he at least has that in his arsenal. Scott and Ennis both play hard and physical, and make you work to get your shot off from the arc. Harris is no different, mind you. He is a passable defender and a pivotal offensive piece.

Tonight’s game was an interesting case study into this idea. For one thing, Harris went 0-6 for 3. That’s…not good. But obviously, things like that are in part due to chance. Embiid had two 3-pointers rattle around inside and bounce out. Things like that just suck when the team was already struggling offensively.

Some of the teams’ struggles were Boston’s defense, like how Horford gets away with murder against Embiid. But some things, like Korkmaz and Harris missing open looks, and Redick having an off night, are just shit luck.

I’m not going to try and justify this outcome as frustrated as I am by another loss to Boston on the season, but man would this have felt good. How Sixers-y is it that Harris goes cold the one night we really need him not to? Or, among other things, the refs blowing calls and Butler missing 2 free throws late in the game? All of these things aside, I think the matchup was about as we expected. Players like Horford and Morris drew the front-court away from the rim, and Al Horford is just more mobile than Embiid. And he’s certainly more mobile than Boban.

The likelihood of the Sixers and Celtics meeting in the postseason is low, save for the Eastern Conference Finals, or, if Indiana keeps playing well, in the first round. Neither of which are likely, as the odds that the Pacers outplace both the Sixers and Celtics are pretty low, despite having a one game advantage right now. And moreover, I think the Raptors or Bucks would beat the Celtics in round 2, as Boston struggles on the road and neither have answers for Milwaukee’s system or the Raptors size and strength. So, for the sake of my heart health, it’s probably good that the two won’t meet up.

Teaser Tuesday: Courtside Pick’em 2/12/2019

Purdue (-2.5) @ Maryland o/u 141 The Pick: Maryland +2.5

St. Bonaventure (+1.5) @ Saint Joseph o/u 134 The Pick: SJU -1.5

Buffalo (-7.5) @ Akron o/u 146 The Pick: Akron +7.5

Davidson (-7.5) @ Fordham o/u 126 The Pick: Davidson -7.5

Pitt (+2.5) @ Boston College o/u 139 The Pick: Over

Michigan State (-1.5) @ Wisconsin o/u 135 The Pick: Under

Marquette (-3.5) @ DePaul o/u 150 The Pick: Marquette -3.5

Michigan (-7) @ Penn State o/u 129 The Pick: Michigan -7

Duke (-8.5) @ Louisville o/u 153 The Pick: Duke -8.5

Kansas State (+3) @ Texas o/u 123 The Pick: Kansas State+3

The Courtside Tuesday Teaser of the Week

Why You Should Buy In to the AAF

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With the inaugural weekend of AAF action in the books, I have officially bought in to the Alliance of American Football.  With former NFL players and college stars littered throughout the 8 rosters, what’s not to love about the NFL’s D-League?  A safe middle ground between the stars of the NFL and the lack of talent and defense at the collegiate level, the AAF is the perfect offseason football for football fanatics.

What Makes the AAF Special

While this may just seem like a less-talented NFL at first, there are rules in the AAF that keeps the game exciting and fast-paced.  With no TV timeouts or challenges (there is an official who can correct calls in real-time), AAF games feel much shorter than the typical NFL game.  Not only is the game faster, but some of the more boring plays in football are removed.  The point after try has been completely eliminated in this league, forcing teams to go for two after every touchdown.  The kickoff has been replaced by the ball starting off at the 25-yard line.  This also keeps players on the field, as kickoffs have been known to create plenty of injury problems.

On top of keeping the game fast-paced, there are some new rules that keep the league fresh compared to other leagues.  For example, the onside kick has been replaced by the onside conversion.  The onside conversion can only be called if a team is losing by 17+ points or if there are less than 5 minutes in the fourth quarter.  If it is called, the team losing gets the opportunity to convert a 4th-and-12 from their own 28 yard line.  After this play the game simply continues as usual, according to whether or not the losing team converted.  The league also appears to be oriented towards the offensive-loving fan, as the defense can only rush five, in order to protect the quarterbacks.

Eight Teams and Their Stars

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The eight teams in the AAF are comprised of players within their given region.  Players are allocated to each team based on where they played collegiate football or where they played most recently professionally.  For example, the Arizona Hotshots get players from the Cardinals, Ravens, Bears, 49ers, Edmonton Eskimos, and several major colleges near or in Arizona, including Arizona, New Mexico, and UCLA.

Arizona Hotshots

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The Arizona Hotshots are 1-0 after their 38-22 victory over the Salt Lake Stallions.  Head coached by former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, the Hotshots are led by a one-two punch at quarterback featuring former Cardinal Trevor Knight and former Wake Forest Demon Deacon John Wolford.  Other interesting names on the Hotshot depth chart include two former Eagles Dexter McDougle and Josh Huff, and former Jets kicker Nick Folk.

Atlanta Legends

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Despite a star-studded front office including Mike Vick as a team advisor and former Vikings coach Brad Childress within the organization, the Legends lack noticeable names on their depth chart.  This was evident in their 6-40 loss against the Orlando Apollos in week one.  Perhaps starting quarterback Matt Simms (son of Phil and brother of Chris) will be able to turn their fortunes around.

Birmingham Iron

The Birmingham Iron have the biggest star in the AAF in their backfield with former Alabama running back Trent Richardson.  Richardson is one of many AAF players looking to make an NFL return in the near future, and he is trying to use the AAF to do so.  His AAF debut was successful, with two touchdowns and a 26-0 win over the Memphis Express.  The Iron have one of the strongest defenses in the league, as they have recorded the first shutout in the history of the AAF.

Memphis Express

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The Memphis Express had the least impressive of all of the debuts from this past weekend.  Former Jet and Penn Stater Christian Hackenberg captained the offense to an inspiring 67 yards and an interception on 23 passes.  Head coached by Mike Singletary (yes, you read that right), Memphis looks like they could very easily end up at the bottom of the AAF in its inaugural season.  Other notable players on the Memphis Express include former Ram Zac Stacy (pictured above) and former LSU and Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger is the second-string to Hackenberg.

Orlando Apollos

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The Orlando Apollos delivered the statement performance of the AAF’s inaugural weekend, dominating the Atlanta Legends 40-6.  Led by the stellar defensive performance of former Redskin and Seahawk Terence Garvin (pictured on left) who finished his outing with ten tackles and 2 interceptions.  The Apollos also have the most decorated coach in the league in Steve Spurrier, who called an ‘Orlando Special‘ during the blowout.

Salt Lake Stallions

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The Salt Lake Stallions may have lost their first game in franchise history 38-22 against Atlanta, but this team has one of the most talented rosters in the league.  With two noteworthy former NFL running backs in Branden Oliver and Matt Asiata, the Stallions are not a team to take lightly in the inaugural season of the AAF.

San Antonio Commanders

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The San Antonio Commanders set the world alit with a viral hit coming from linebacker Shaan Washington, bringing the world of AAF football into mainstream media.  San Antonio’s defense looked incredible in their home opener, allowing only one score in a 15-6 win over San Diego.  This team is full of former NFL players including Kenneth Farrow, De’Vante Bausby, and Kurtis Drummond.  San Antonio’s defense should see them towards the top of the AAF by season’s end.

San Diego Fleet

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The eighth team in the AAF is the San Diego Fleet.  Their defeat in week one against the San Antonio Commanders gave them the first loss in the history of the AAF.  Now that’s something to be proud of!  Led by Arizona State alum Mike Bercovici (who was the recipient of the aforementioned viral hit), San Diego struggled to get their offense going in the Alamodome.  The Fleet consist of a few big name former NFLers including Gavin Escobar and Ron Brooks.

With eight fun teams to root for and plenty of former NFL players scattered across the league, I am proud to call myself an AAF fan.  Football has always been my favorite sport, and I am willing to give the AAF a chance if it means I get to continue watching football for a few more months.

Life Post-Trade Deadline: So Far, So Good

In possibly the most explosive game since the trade deadline last Thursday, the new look Philadelphia 76ers absolutely imposed their will upon the Lakers (boy does that feel good to say). Despite Kyle Kuzma’s 39 points, the Sixers won 143-120.

The Lakers, who are often touted as a strong defensive team, gave up 34 points in the 4th Quarter, and 33 minimum for each quarter.

LeBron James looked like he’s still working his way back in after the longest absence in his career.

Life with Tobias Harris has gone great thus far, he posted 22 points including 3 3-balls and on 9-14 from the field.

Embiid was the man of the night, with 37 points, 14 rebounds, and a steal. He posted his career high in points last season against the Lakers. The Lakers situation is dire at best, as Javale McGee still plays well within his limited minutes, and Tyson Chandler is lacking offensively when he takes over for McGee. As such, it’s not surprising that Embiid was able to beast on this Lakers squad.

One underrated aspect of this game was how well the Sixers shared and moved the ball. Butler had a good game with 15 points, as well as doing some great on ball defense on players like Brandon Ingram, who it seemed to be easy for Butler to force into errors or poor shot selection. Ingram had 19 points but was a -8 on BP/M.

JJ Redick had 15 points on only 3 3-point makes, which was that absolutely insane and-1 shot from nearly behind the backboard in the corner.

Ben Simmons struggled tonight, which isn’t all that surprising: he seemed a little bit passive and unsure immediately after the Butler trade, but found his rhythm again just before the Harris trade. However, Simmons was operating on no shortage of aggression this time. He took his very first pull up 3-pointer, which was an unlucky rattle away from going in. He also took many more shots from outside of the paint, and was intent on hitting turn-around jumpers out of the post. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t surprise me if Simmons looks a little uncertain in the near future, as this team clearly still has to figure out effective ways to share the ball with as many high-usage threats in their starting 5.

Simmons was a +6 on BP/M, despite having no double digits on the stat-line. He did, however, play some fantastic defense, including one impressive block down-low against LeBron James.

While wins over a strong Denver team and a LeBron led clown-fest feels good, the Sixers’ true test post-deadline comes Tuesday at home against Boston. They lost the first game of the season against Boston, and lost a close OT game against Boston Christmas Day, both of which were away. The Sixers are great at home, but Boston has historically been a bane for Philly. Although it’s important to note, this is not the same Philadelphia squad as was seen in either the first nor second meeting between the two. Boston is also in a shaky place culturally, after their crazy comeback lost to the Sixers-er, I mean the Clippers’ own Landry Shamet. Man, that will never stop hurting to say.