How Sixers would match up with Celtics in playoffs

Celtics' Shaquille O'Neal may return to play Sixers on Tuesday.
Celtics' Shaquille O'Neal may return to play Sixers on Tuesday.
Posted: April 01, 2011

Whether the 76ers wind up as the sixth seed (most likely) or the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, their opponent probably will be either the Miami Heat or the Boston Celtics.

Last week we talked to an NBA scout about a possible matchup with the Heat. Here's a look at how the scout sees a matchup between the Sixers and the Celtics, who will play Tuesday night in Boston in what could be a playoff preview.

Yesterday, general manager Danny Ainge said on a radio station that Shaquille O'Neal, who last played Feb. 1 due to a sore right leg, might return against the Sixers. Teammate Jermaine O'Neal returned against San Antonio last night from a left knee injury that had kept him out since Jan. 10.

And so, onto the scout's take:

Celtics defense

"They are a tremendous defensive team, but they don't have a shot-blocker. They are 29th in the league in blocked shots. Therefore it's going to be imperative that the Sixers attack the basket. In order to score, because Boston is so good defensively in the halfcourt, the Sixers have to maximize their ability to run, get out on the break.

"Glen Davis, Shaquille [O'Neal], Jermaine [O'Neal], they are not good defensive transition players, so that could play in favor of Philadelphia. But, Boston's halfcourt defense is outstanding and we all know how much of a halfcourt game the game becomes in the playoffs. You have to be aware constantly of where [Rajon] Rondo is because he is such a good player in playing the passing lanes and stealing the ball. If Shaq plays - and it's hard to predict what's going to happen because we don't know what condition Shaq is going to be in. But, the recent play of Spencer Hawes should enable him to draw Shaq away from the basket, and Shaq is reluctant to leave the basket, so it's very possible that Hawes will be getting some open shots. "

Sixers defense

"Defensively, the real problem is Rondo. Boston has tremendous perimeter shooters in both [Paul] Pierce and [Ray] Allen. Rondo just makes a living driving to the basket, penetrating and kicking. You really have to foul him, maybe even a hard foul, because he's a poor free-throw shooter. But when he penetrates and kicks he's kicking to the best shooter in the league in Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce is right there with him. Those guys both shoot tremendously from three-point range. [Kevin] Garnett is highly efficient offensively. [Nenad] Krstic is more than effective as a jump shooter.

"Basically they are a jump-shooting team. As a result you can beat them if you're chasing them off the three-point line, and that's going to be critical, I think, for the Sixers. That's one of the big turnarounds for Philadelphia. Last year and the previous year they were 29th and 30th in the league in defending the three-point line. At the present time I think they rank third in the league. That quality, that they have to run them off the three-point line, is important."

Intangibles

"The Sixers must defensive rebound. Believe it or not, Boston is not a great rebounding team. I think they're 20th in the league overall in rebounds [differential at -0.64]. Philadelphia is a better rebounding team statistically [-0.37]. In order to stop the offensive game of Boston you have to defensive rebound, and in order to get out on the break, which is what Philadelphia will want to do, you have to defensive rebound. Defensive rebounding is an area of concern as well as defending the three-point line."

And about the O'Neals

"Shaq makes them different because he clogs up the middle, but he's not as efficient a shooter or scorer as Krstic and I'm not sure at what level Shaq is going to be able to perform. If he can play a little bit like the Shaq of old, it makes them much more difficult to play against. But I don't think anyone is expecting that. And I think Jermaine O'Neal is a question mark. He could come back and give them some quality minutes if he's physically able. I suspect we're going to see a little bit of Shaq or Jermaine before the season ends, but it's hard to envision that they're going to be in midseason form after having all this time off."

Some added info

The teams have met three times this season, with the Celtics getting two wins by a total of five points. The Sixers got their win on March 11 at home, 89-86.

Other stuff

After yesterday's practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, coach Doug Collins was asked about how he has been shortening his bench recently, basically relying on dependables Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young for the majority of the minutes, then trying to find another body to fill gaps.

"I've just wanted to win all these games [of late]," Collins said. "What ends up happening is you get in these games and you're going to go with the guys you trust the most. I feel like we've got a good rotation. The good part about it is that Spencer [Hawes] has been able to play more minutes. And so I've been able to get he and [Elton Brand] out of the game, come in with Thad and then get E.B. or Spence back in the game.

"We want to win as many games as we can going in [to the playoffs], obviously, to give ourselves the best chance to have the best seed. I though Noc [Andres Nocioni] gave us 13 good minutes [Wednesday night], I was happy about that. The big question is going to be if we need another big and that's Mo [Marreese Speights] or Tony [Battie]. Tony has been sick and I haven't felt like he's been ready. Benches sometime do get shorter in the playoffs, but I haven't really made that a plan. But I just sort of play it out as I see it that particular night. We're going to need nine or 10 guys who are ready to help us."

Brand didn't attend yesterday's practice as Collins told him to stay home and rest. Brand is battling a sickness that has been going around the locker room.

UPCOMING GAMES

Tonight vs. New Jersey Nets, 7 o'clock

Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)

The skinny:

The Sixers will be looking for the season sweep against New Jersey (23-51) in their fourth meeting of the season. The Sixers have won the three games by an average of almost 12 points. Point guard Deron Williams returned Wednesday night for the Nets after missing six games from a strained wrist tendon injury. He scored 22 points and collected eight each of assists and rebounds.

Tomorrow at Milwaukee Bucks, 8:30 p.m.

Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)

The skinny:

The Sixers will be playing the back end of a back-to-back game in Milwaukee (30-44) for the second time in 3 weeks. Their prior meeting wasn't very good as the Bucks throttled the Sixers, 102-74. Wednesday, in Toronto, the Bucks won for the first time this season while allowing an opponent to shoot 50 percent from the floor.

Tuesday at Boston Celtics, 7:30 p.m.

Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)

The skinny:

The Celtics (52-22) beat the Spurs last night, but have been struggling of late. They were woeful in the fourth quarter of Monday's loss at Indiana, shooting 28.6 percent in the fourth quarter.

Wednesday vs. New York Knicks, 7 p.m.

Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)

The skinny:

Carmelo Anthony has been on fire lately for the Knicks (37-38), having scored 39 points in each of their last two games, both wins. In Wednesday's victory over the Nets, Anthony, Amare' Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups combined for 95 of the team's 120 points.

BY THE NUMBERS

11.8:

That's the average margin of victory for the Sixers this season. Of their 39 wins, 25 have come by double digits.

10-2:

That's the Sixers' record when sub Thaddeus Young scores 20 or more points in a game.

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