Howard Smith/US Presswire
Elton Brand and Kevin Garnett renew acquaintances Wednesday night in Philadelphia.The Boston Celtics (20-17, 5-9 away) will pack a five-game winning streak when they visit the Philadelphia 76ers (22-17) on Wednesday evening at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m., CSN). What's more, the surging C's will have a chance to move into a tie for first place atop the Atlantic Division with a win in the first meeting of the two teams this season. On the second night of back-to-backs we tighten up the rotation and play a quick game of 2-on-2 to preview the matchup with colleague Greg Payne.
1. What stands out most about the 76ers this season?
Payne: Their defense. What's the old adage? Defense wins championships, right? And right now, you could certainly argue that Philly boasts a championship-level defense, seeing as they're currently ranked first in the league in defensive efficiency, according to HoopData. Philadelphia's players have completely bought into head coach Doug Collins' system, and Andre Iguodala has transformed into a jack-of-all-trades type of player, contributing significantly in almost every single category.
Forsberg: For such a young team, the 76ers are incredibly disciplined (they do foul a lot, but opponents are not generating an absurd number of free throws). Philadelphia leans on stout defense and it doesn't turn the ball over (first in the league with a mere 10.6 turnovers per game). Heck, we hear Doc Rivers preach all the time about playing good defense and valuing the ball, and it's like Philly just took his cheat sheet to instant success. And we bring this up often in this space, but rebounding -- yet again -- will be a key. The 76ers are excellent at limiting opponents rebounds and their quickness helps them on the offensive glass. Boston will have tired legs coming off an overtime game and it's imperative they compete on the glass.
2. Crystal ball time: Who's on top of the Atlantic Division at season's end: Boston or Philly (or someone else)?
Payne: I think the Sixers will be, mainly because they have a roster that's built better for the rigorous schedule this season has brought on. Philly is younger and more athletic, and as long as they remain stout defensively, they shouldn't be at risk of falling too low in the standings. They have a solid closer now in Lou Williams (off the bench no less), along with a steady crop of role players. Their lack of a true superstar might be a blessing in disguise, as it keeps the rest of the group honest and committed to their respective roles.
Forsberg: We'll know after tonight. I'm inclined to agree with you, Payne, and say that the 76ers are built to endure the grind better, but four remaining head-to-head matchups remaining really makes this one tough to call. If Boston can go out, on the second night of a back-to-back after its second overtime win in a row, and still find a way to win this game -- on the road no less -- that bodes incredibly well for their chances to be the one standing at the top of the Atlantic when the smoke clears. If they falter tonight, it's a pretty good sign that these second nights on the road are going to be killer for them -- and there's plenty of them looming -- so maybe the young legs emerge with the prize (Boston can always seek revenge in the postseason if things like up right).