Preview: Philadelphia 76ers (15-17) at Phoenix Suns (11-21)

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Time: 7:00 pm MST

TV: FSAZ

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The Suns will get an opportunity to start 2013 off with a win as they host the Philadelphia 76ers tonight at the US Airways Center. Phoenix has lost six games in a row, all to opponents with records of .500 or better. The good news for Phoenix is that despite their poor record overall, they are 6-2 at home against teams with sub .500 records. Also in the Phoenix’s favor, Philadelphia played a hard-fought game last night against the Lakers in Los Angeles.

The 76ers pulled out an impressive 103-99 win at the Staples Center. Offensively, they were led, as they have been all season, by Jrue Holiday who put up 26 points and 10 assists. The matchup between Holiday and Goran Dragic will be the key to this game.

Dragic and Holiday are very similar players. Both are point guards who lead their teams in scoring. Both are among the league leaders in isolation and pick-and-roll scoring. Isolation is a much bigger part of Holiday’s game, but Dragic scores more efficiently out of it. As the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations both players are just as likely to attack the basket as they are to dump it off to a rolling big man.

Because of their similar offensive talents, their battle may come down to defense. Dragic has a definite size advantage, so he will be able to bother Holiday’s jump shot. On the flip side, Holiday’s is the better defender statistically, and his quickness will be tough for Goran to handle on both ends of the floor.

Dragic won’t be alone in carrying the scoring load for Phoenix as Luis Scola has quietly put up 57 points in the last two games. Scola hasn’t been this productive since he played for Argentina in the Olympics. Against the Timberwolves and Thunder, Luis scored on a variety of clever moves in the paint and short jumpers. He’ll face a stiff test against a Sixers’ front line which just held Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard to 18 points on 3-of-19 shooting combined.

With Scola as a legitimate scoring threat in the paint, things should open up for Dudley, Brown, and Dragic spotting up along the perimeter. The Suns were not able to take advantage from the three-point line against the Thunder and Minnesota, but Philadelphia has allowed opponents to shoot over 36% from downtown this season (18th in the NBA). Phoenix’s shooters should get an opportunity to find their range in this one.

Scola’s production should be a boon to Marcin Gorat as well. Scola’s craftiness in the paint often forces opponents to send another defender at him. If Gortat’s defender leaves him to help on Luis, it frees him up to dive to the hoop. Scola is an excellent interior passer who will have no problem hitting a cutting Gortat for an easy bucket. With Andrew Bynum out indefinitely, Marcin should be able to exploit the center duo of Lavoy Allen and Kwame Brown with relative ease.

The Suns have an excellent chance to stop their six-game skid tonight. Getting the win will likely come down to Phoenix’s fourth-quarter execution which has been abysmal in each of the last six losses save the blowout by the Clippers. In late-game situations, the Suns have been sloppy offensively and over-matched defensively. While some of the blame for this behavior has to be placed on the players, much of it has to fall on coach Alvin Gentry. Gentry must find a way to pull the Suns out of this clutch-situation funk or the Suns might set a record for close losses in one season.

And-1

  1. Former Sun Jason Richardson returned from injury Saturday against the Trail Blazers and should play tonight.
  2. Michael Beasley was a “DNP-CD” against the Thunder. While that was partly due to matchup issues that pressed PJ Tucker into extended service, Beasley’s production has been tailing off since his move to the bench. Coach Gentry was no doubt sending a message by not calling Beasley’s name at all. It will interesting to see if Michael responds tonight against the Sixers.
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