Michael Levin of the excellent Sixers blog "Liberty Ballers" asked me if I wanted to do a little back and forth on the game tonight. I gladly obliged. Here's what transpired.
Michael Levin: Hope everything's going well in TradeRondoNoWaitWeTakeItBackLand. You interested in doing some sort of blog synergy Q&A thing for the game? I'm kind of over the whole "you ask me five questions and I'll ask you five and we'll answer them separately." I'd rather get into an argument or something. No fisticuffs but maybe you'd want to have a back-and-forth email exchange about said in-division rivalry?
Jeff Clark: I'm your huckleberry. So I haven't been keeping up with the Sixers much recently. We'd like to thank you for taking a tumble back to the pack and giving us a shot at the Atlantic Division lead. Honestly I thought you guys were playing a little over your heads early in the year but overall I liked your team and the way they were playing early on. So, umm, whahappen?
Michael Levin: I take your ignoring the Sixers extremely personally and will proceed to overreact and assume the Celtics and the rest of the league and ESPN and the referees and especially David Stern are all intentionally rooting against the Sixers, actively seeking their demise in a superstar-driven league. Rabble!
Well the Sixers have, uh, not been great lately. But that stems mostly from an inability to close out games against good (better) teams. A lot of final possession losses, including the single most telling stat in the history of history: They are 1-13 in games decided by 7 points or less. Either they're blowing you out, or you can count on some seriously poor possessions in the last few minutes. Pretty spectacular to watch. Very Philadelphia Eagles-esque. We like to keep things par for the course across all 4 major sports.
Anyways, doesn't seem like their shooting woes will hold them down for much longer as they're bound to make a few shots here and there. Once that happens, I'm anticipating a nice run to hopefully lengthen the now-slim lead they hold over your Celtics. No, they weren't as good as they were earlier, but I think youth and mostly-good coaching (outside of the last few minutes), will prevail over the Geriatrics and the Lins.
Jeff Clark: You are absolutely right. I guess my East coast bias... er, my Northeast bias... er, um, my Boston bias is showing through. I mean, after all, the only thing you can expect from Boston fans is knuckle dragging, chowdah-heads that have no concept of anything beyond the Birkshires. By the way, Pat's over Gino's every day of the week (wiz-with please).
Sounds like you guys might have a clutch problem. Or perhaps your problem is that your best player isn't exactly and alpha-dog, take over the game when his team needs it the most, kind of guy. Personally, I love Iggy as much as anyone, but he needs a partner in crime that will take over a game if need be. Who usually takes the last shot?
Geriatrics we may be, but the only concerns with the end of games is which of our clutch stars is going to take the last shot (and how to keep Rondo off the line in the process). As for the Knicks, it does seem like Linsanity is Melo-ing a bit, but I think they'll figure it out eventually and we may both have to deal with that team yet.
Michael Levin: Let's get this out of the way because all Philadelphia-related talk always devolves into this argument. If you're getting a cheese steak from the city of Philadelphia (or even its suburbs), it will taste good. You can have a preference (mine is probably Steve's) but at the end of the day, shove any Philadelphia cheese steak in my mouth and I'll be the happiest camper.
Clutch stats have been talked about ad nauseum around our parts of late. My brother Jordan Sams wrote an uncharacteristically legitimate article (our readers are used to Sixers drinking games and pictures of Darius Songaila) on NBA clutch statistics that got some love all over the place and found that what is commonly held to be true is far from it. The reason Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett have been mostly good in "the clutch" for years is because they're not creating the shot themselves, the shot is coming through the offense. Ray always gets open enough for Paul Pierce or Rajon Rondo or Walter McCarty (Waltah!) to find him for the game-tying three. He's not dribbling around defenders and taking a fadeaway leaner, even though between your Big Four, some of them have the ability to do that (Pierce, mostly).
Doug Collins maintains that, even though the Sixers hardly have the shooting/creating personnel of the C's, it should be isolation basketball when the clock runs down. They've been historically unsuccessful at that. Lou Williams, who I loathe, has had a mostly solid season, but his off-balance iso leaners from 22 feet to tie the game are the most abhorrent thing I've seen on a basketball court. Doug's playcalling could not be any more obvious or more terrible in late-game situations.
Knicks-wise, I can't see them clicking regularly enough to overtake either of us. A 7- or 8-seed is in their future.
Jeff Clark: Everyone and their brother (like for instance you and your brother) has the Celtics blowing it up and trading away everyone they can. I'm either being contrarian or stubborn or naive or maybe (just maybe) right when I say that we have no need to blow it up. If we can get someone for Jermaine O'Neal's expiring contract (and maybe a young player or 2nd rounder) then so be it. We take one last shot at the title (and I think getting the 4 seed with the Atlantic crown would help that effort) and then blow it up in the offseason with oodles of cap space to use as we see fit. No, I don't have delusions of Dwight or Deron, but I think you can do a lot with cap space when you know what you're doing.
So what are the Sixers plans for the trade deadline? What does the future hold in Philly?
Michael Levin: It seems like they do have one last run in them. Even if they don't get home-court, which I'm hoping they don't, obvs, they're still good enough to beat anybody in the league once they flip the 2004 Lakers-coined Playoff Switch. The Sixers haven't played them in a year (til tonight) so I'm extremely interested to see just how they stack up against each other. I'm with you on non-blowing it up. KG and Ray are still great at what they do, Pierce is hit-or-miss at this point (been hitting like a madman lately), and Rondo can find open men in his sleep. Front court depth will always be an issue (though Chris Wilcox has been mostly pleasant), but it's not like the Sixers are stacked either so there you go.
Seems like the Sixers will try to move Andres Nocioni's expiring contract, easily the most hustling expiring contract this side of Argentina. I'm hoping for a good defensive rebounder, a non-Kapono shooter or a backup point guard. As long as they fit the Collins system of NO TURNOVERS OR DRIVES TO THE BASKET EVER, (s)he should contribute more than Noce. The Sixers do have a tendency to always make the wrong trade forever always, so I'm very nervous about trading Evan Turner for Drew Gooden or something. Hold me.
How about a prediction?
Jeff Clark: Let's see, the Celtics have played two overtime games in the last 3 days and are playing the 2nd half of a back to back. Normally I'd predict a bad loss by our boys, but that Atlantic lead is a nice carrot to dangle in front of them for motivation. (Don't get me started on why a team of vets needs motivation) So I'll predict a sloppy, back and forth game that ends up going to triple overtime and results in 3 of our guys needing oxygen masks. Still, if it is going to be close, based on your scouting report, the Celtics win by 3. (Just don't fully count out a blow-out win for the Sixers)
Michael Levin: I don't think my stomach could stand another close loss, although overtime strikes a cord in my neuroses that probably means it'll happen. I'll go against that terrible feeling and say Sixers will be up big in the 3rd, let the Celtics come back in the 4th, and keep them within around 9 points to end it. After an embarrassing loss to Milwaukee, I think they're going to summon up some goods to take an exhausted Celtics team.
Or at least I hope they will. Eek.