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The Center Can Not Hold: Under-Bigged Sixers Take on Wizards at Home

Jan 23, 2012, 5:42 PM EDT

Fear the worst as the Philadelphia Sixers take on the Washington Wizards tonight without either of their starting centers.

Ugh. After getting blown out in Miami by a Heat team that couldn’t miss a
shot if they wanted to (the night before laying just 82 on the Bucks—I
repeat, ugh), the Sixers should have been in for a nice little ego boost
at home tonight against the Wizards, who the Sixers have handily
dispatched twice already this season (and four times total if you count
pre-season). But not so fast, Rodriguez—the Ballers, already undersized
as is, will be desperately lacking in the big man department, with top
two centers Spencer Hawes and Nikola Vucevic out with injuries. OK, so
they’ll just go small with Elton Brand at the center for most of the
game, right? Maybe not, since our starting power forward is suffering
from gastroenteritis and missed practice this morning, though he’s at
the arena and it does look like he’ll at least try to play.

I repeat: UGH.

Anyway, it could be worse—the Sixers are entering their easiest stretch
of the season coming up, with home games against the Wiz, the Bobcats,
the Pistons and the Nets (the four worst teams record-wise and
otherwise-wise in the East right now), and even an undermanned Sixers
squad should be able to take care of business in most of those games.
But with an absolutely brutal stretch coming up aftewards—I won’t go
into the teams just yet, but trust me, it’s not pretty—we need to be
stockpiling all our easy Ws for the winter, while we can. If we lose one
or more of these games because JaVale McGee, Boris Diaw and Greg Monroe
prove unstoppable inside, it may really come back to bite us down the
line when we’re fighting for seeding (and possibly—gasp!—home court
advantage) in the post-season.

What’s more, the Wizards have actually been playing half-decently of
late. They pulled the upset win of the year when they beat Oklahoma City
at home for their second win, and stayed in games against the
far-superior Nuggets and the should-be-far-superior Celtics until the
very end. The main reason for the improved play is the
better-late-than-never surge from sophomore player John Wall, who’s
averaging 25.8 points, 8.3 assists and 8.0 rebounds over his last four
games. (Shooting numbers aren’t great, but he’s getting to the line like
a beast, with over 11 FTs attempted a game over that span.) But of
course, as much a concern as a hot Wall for the Sixers is previously the
mentioned center McGee, who torched Philly for 23 and 18 last time out,
and should be smacking his lips at the opportunity to go against a
Thad/Elton/Tony front line tonight.

7:00 tip from the WFC. By the way, the loss in Miami wasn’t entirely
without positives. Evan Turner was looking sharp again, and played maybe
his best all-around quarter of basketball of the year in the second,
scoring double-digits before the half and ending with 16 points, six
boards and four assists. The team hung tough for three quarters, with
Vucevic in particular providing an unexpected spark with his 13 and 9,
until the big man went down with his strained knee and left us reliant
on the Battie/Brand/Lavoy Allen combo in the middle. The Heat pulled
away in the fourth, and proved once again that when LeBron is passing
and their other guys are making shots, they are not in the slightest way
beatable. Let’s pray that if we have to face them again in the
playoffs, it’s not until as late a round as humanly possible.