Tonight’s game: Boston Celtics (4-0) at Philadelphia 76ers (2-1) 7pm from the Wachovia Center. Line: Celtics -7
PF Kevin Garnett: There is no doubt the Sixers focus on this game is going to have to be defending the perimeter. With sharpshooters Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, along with Rasheed Wallace off the bench, the Celtics can light it up from down town. The Sixers have never been the best at defending the 3-pointer, so they must key their concentration on limiting Boston’s shooters. This will mean that the Celtics will need Kevin Garnett to shine for them. If Garnett is on tonight, it could be a very long game for the Sixers. He has the ability to neutralize any defense with his inside game, combined with his excellent mid-range jumper. He is coming off a serious injury and is still trying to get used to playing every game again.
PG Rajon Rondo: Rondo is the X-Factor for the Celtics. He is their most underrated player by far, and is quietly becoming one of the best point guards in the game. Always a threat to put up a triple-double, the Sixers cannot allow Rondo to dictate the game. He is at his best when he has control of the offense, weaving in and out of lanes to get Pierce and Allen their open shots from the outside. If they can force Rondo to take shots rather than distribute the ball, their chances of winning will improve.
For the Sixers:
PG Lou Williams: Williams has had a tremendous first three games for the Sixers. Now his biggest test arrives tonight, where he will be asked to step up on both sides of the court. Offensively, he must keep the Sixers transition game moving, getting the easy buckets off turnover as well as working the Princeton offense effectively. This will be a talk task considering the Celtics are allowing just 81.4 points per game this season. Defensively, he will be charged with the job of shutting down Rajon Rondo, not an easy task. How well Williams plays Rondo may very well be the determining factor in the game.
C Samuel Dalembert: Sammy needs to stay out of foul trouble and control the point. When he is in there, the Sixers are much better at preventing second chance opportunities for their opponents, something they cannot give the Celtics if they hope to come out on top. He can also provide some scoring down low, along with offensive rebounds, something the Sixers will also need if they hope to pull off the upset tonight.
What the Sixers must do to win:
A lot. They need to be able to contain the Boston offensive game. They can’t let them get any easy points, nor allow them any open looks from 3-point range. Play physical but play smart, they can’t afford to get in foul trouble. Offensively, they need to be very efficient every time they have possession. Boston is a great defensive team, so the Sixers must have good shot selection throughout the entire game. They also must get some points via the fastbreak by forcing turnovers.
The Sixers will have their hands full tonight. Boston is undefeated and looks very much like the team that won the NBA Championship two years ago. However, the Sixers have played well recently against them at home, losing both games last year by a total of 3 points. If they execute on offense, and play very strong defensively, they will have a shot. Unfortunately, I don’t think they will be able to do enough to get it done tonight, although I do expect this game to be close for the majority of the game.
Celtics by 8.