Posted by Neil Paine on April 16, 2009
Regular Season: Following a disastrous 9-14 start under Maurice Cheeks that saw prized free agent pickup Elton Brand completely fail to mesh with the rest of the roster, Cheeks was canned, 1st-time head coach Tony DiLeo took over, Brand was lost for the season with a shoulder injury... and the team starting winning games. Under DiLeo they went 32-27, clawing their way back into the playoff picture and eventually beating out Chicago for the 6th seed on the last day of the regular season.
Prime-Time Players: 1. Andre Iguodala. Iggy was the Sixers' top player in 2009 and enjoyed arguably the best season of his career, leading the team in both Win Shares and Adjusted +/-. His strong play on defense could make a big difference against Orlando, who boast a dominant D but are not exactly an elite offensive club.
2. Thaddeus Young. In 2009 Young built on his nice '08 rookie campaign, increasing his production by a full Win Share and putting together another terrific +/- season. His 2nd-year breakthrough couldn't have come at a better time for Philly, either, as his emergence as a solid offensive option gives them at least some hope in an Eastern Conference landscape littered with defensive juggernauts. What's more, he was the team's best player during last year's pleasantly-surprising playoff series vs. Detroit. If he's healthy after a 2-week layoff to close the regular season, he will be a big contributor to Philadelphia's playoff efforts.
3. Louis Williams. Earning more playing time as the season progressed, Williams showed he was capable of being a good scorer and a decent backcourt partner for either Andre Miller or the offensively-challenged Royal Ivey, and that's going to come in handy against teams like the Magic, who put a major premium on scoring points. Given that he played reasonably well in the playoffs last year, it wouldn't be surprising to see Williams play a big role if the 76ers are somehow able to upset the Magic.
But don't count on... Andre Miller. Miller is one of the 76ers' best and most experienced players, but he's never been a strong playoff performer, whether in Denver or Philly. Facing the defensively-dominant Magic in Round 1, Sixer fans probably shouldn't expect that fact to change anytime soon.
Why they can win: They have a young core that plays decent defense, can force you into mistakes, and capitalize in the open court. DiLeo has them believing they can do some damage, despite an ill-timed slump down the stretch. Last year, they surprised many by handing the Pistons 2 losses in their 1st-round series. This is a team of overachievers.
Why they can't win: They just don't have enough firepower offensively to make a legit run. Even their best offensive players (Iguodala, Miller, Young) would probably be better suited to be secondary options elsewhere. And facing Orlando in the 1st round, they're going to need all the scoring they can get.
X-Factor: Jump shooting. Philly was one of the worst jump-shooting teams in the league during the regular season, a flaw that they will need to correct in a hurry if they are to upset the defensive-minded Magic.
|76ers vs.||Off.||Def.||Reb.||Coach||Exp.||The Skinny||Prediction|
|Atlanta||X||X||Very little margin for error, but it could be done||Hawks in 7|
|Boston||Tough to match Celtics' talent, if not their intensity||Celtics in 5|
|Chicago||X||X||X||Very evenly-matched series could depend on home-court||Sixers in 7|
|Cleveland||X||Too much LeBron||Cavs in 4|
|Detroit||X||X||X||X||Pistons have a shot, but 76ers are better||Sixers in 6|
|Miami||Push||Push||X||Push||Wade makes the difference||Heat in 7|
|Orlando||X||Howard owns the interior||Magic in 5|
(Key: "X" = Advantage; blank = disadvantage)