The 76ers (16-58; 5th-Atlantic Division, 14th-Eastern Conference) host the Charlotte Bobcats (36-38; 3rd-Southeast Division, 7th-Eastern Conference) in their third-to-last game of the season at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers are looking to win consecutive home games for just the second time, having previously done so amidst their 3-0 start to the season. Charlotte, meanwhile, is attempting to get back on track and secure the franchise’s second-ever playoff berth. The Bobcats have dropped four of their previous seven games, after having won six of seven.
The Sixers split their first two games of the season with Charlotte. The most recent pairing between the two teams was on January 15th, when the Sixers held on for a close 95-92 decision. Prior to knocking off the Detroit Pistons this past Saturday, the Sixers hadn’t won a game at home since that victory over the Bobcats.
For the better part of this season, the 76ers haven’t been particularly prolific with their three-point shooting. However, over the last two weeks, the team has shown signs of turning that trend around. Over their past seven games, the Sixers have hit 70 of 205 three-point tries. While converting triples at a rate of 34.1 percent isn’t necessarily anything write home about, it should be noted that the Sixers have landed at least 10 three pointers in six of seven games. Prior to this stretch, the Sixers only had nine total double-figure three-point performances on the season.
Thaddeus Young has played a key role in helping the Sixers increase their three-point output of late. Against the Atlanta Hawks in Monday’s 103-95 loss, Young connected on a career-high five three-point buckets, the capstone of a three-game period during which he drained nine of 15 three-point attempts. Young’s perimeter game – thanks to the encouragement of general manager Sam Hinkie and head coach Brett Brown – has undergone a revival this year, as he’s knocked down a career-best 83 three’s on a career-high 258 three-point tries. Over his three previous seasons with Doug Collins as head coach, Young went a total of eight for 34 from beyond the arch, after having displayed steady long-range ability earlier in his career.
“When Brett and Sam told me in the summer I was going to be a stretch four, and different from the past, I was very happy and excited about it,” Young said prior to tonight’s game. “I’m not happy and excited about how the season went, but I definitely think I’ve taken full advantage of doing the things they’ve wanted me to do.”
Despite being on pace for the second-best season since their founding 10 years ago, the Charlotte Bobcats are in no position to get content heading into the final two weeks of the year. Charlotte currently sits seventh in the Eastern Conference, just three and a half games in front of the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks, and four and a half games ahead of the New York Knicks, which are making a furious push towards post-season play.
That the Bobcats are even in the running for a playoff berth is a testament to the quick turnaround orchestrated by first-year head coach Steve Clifford. He inherited a team that posted a 21-61 record last season. It was the second-worst mark in all of the NBA. Two years ago, Charlotte went a lowly 7-59 during the league’s lockout-shortened season.
Clifford, who has longstanding friendship with 76ers head coach Brett Brown, and Brown’s father, Bob, has helped the Bobcats create a solid defensive identity, while molding big man Al Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker into a dangerous inside-out tandem. Jefferson – signed to a three-year, $40.5 million contract last July – is having one of the best seasons of his 10-year career, averaging 21.5 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Yesterday, Jefferson was tabbed Eastern Conference Player of the Month for March.
Walker – the 2011 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player – has improved in each of his three seasons since leaving Connecticut after his junior year. He’s registered at least 20 points in seven of his last eight games, and is putting up personal best averages of 18.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game.