CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – On their way to becoming the worst defense in the NBA statistically, the game plan against the Cavaliers was simple. Opposing teams would push the pace against what is also one of the oldest teams in the league.
It had been working until the wine and gold rattled off seven consecutive victories and counting. Their next opponent, the Philadelphia 76ers, are a youthful track meet waiting to happen, and will likely employ the same attack against Dwyane Wade and company.
“Definitely a young team, but a very confident team,” Wade said “Obviously we’ve had trouble against these quicker, faster teams that shoot the ball. This team is getting up 3s and they’re letting it fly from every position. So it’s definitely going to be a great challenge for us.”
The Sixers currently move at an average speed of 4.53 mph while on the court, including 4.98 mph offensively, both tops in the NBA. In turn, Philly has also covered the most ground of any team, 95,143.2 feet, over 18 contests.
The good news for head coach Tyronn Lue’s bunch is that the Sixers are near the middle of the league in 3-point attempts, another facet of the defense that struggled early.
In part because of their high pace, Philadelphia also leads the league in turnovers, though Cleveland is near the bottom in forcing them.
The contrasting approaches will be a pace-battle, with the Cavaliers trying to impose their pace and limit that of their opponents.
“Their best game is using their youth and athleticism. Our best game is slowing it down, getting it to our speed, winning in the 4th quarter,” Wade said. “We understand that. They understand that. If you watch us play all these teams, they are trying to get it out and go early. They’re trying to push the pace and go. Early in the season, they was getting us. Lately we’ve been able to combat some of that, and late in games we’ve been able to find a way to chip back in it and win games.
The team numbers are what they are, but it is the focus of Philly’s game, 2016 1st overall pick Ben Simmons, who makes one of the league’s worst teams over the past handful of years now one that is difficult to game plan for.
A 6-foot-10 point guard, the rookie has been as advertised through his first 17 games as a pro, posting 18.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 2.1 steals a game after missing last season with a broken leg.
“That’s incredible for a guy who hasn’t played basketball in over a year,” Wade added. “He’s definitely figured out what works for him and he’s sticking to it. He’s not getting into the 3-ball game that everybody’s getting into, he’s playing his game. He’s definitely a matchup problem and a challenge for most teams.”
To Wade’s point, Simmons has attempted just seven 3-pointers in his young career, and it yet to convert. All of those attempts have been heaves at the buzzer.
Even without being a threat from deep, Lue says the rookie still has been able to execute his strengths.
“Teams are trying to go under, he’s still getting into the paint, making the right play,” Lue said. “So, he’s a tough cover, and in transition, he’s a beast. His speed, his athleticism, his power. So we’ve just got to make sure we get back and get loaded to the ball.”
With that size, Simmons presents a matchup nightmare for almost any team, and now flanked with a lethal jump-shooter in JJ Redick and dominant post-presence in Joel Embiid, the Philadelphia attack is well-rounded.
Wade noted that the key for him will be to slow Simmons’ pace down personally, and not speed his up. As a team, the 35-year-old says his guys will key on Simmons on-ball and off.
“He definitely presents his challenges, but we’ll come up with a game plan of how we can make sure everyone is aware of when he has the ball,” Wade said. “That’s the biggest thing. You can’t stay in front of this guy one-on-one too often, he’s very quick and he’s good. He knows how to get to his spots. We’ve got to make sure we have great team awareness when he’s coming up in transition when he has the ball.”