The Spurs will win if: Philadelphia is a vulnerable team, having lost 14 of 18 games. The Spurs should be able to create the looks they want against an average defense and eliminate memories of their 83-100 loss to New York in which they shot 36.4 percent from the field.
The 76ers will win if: They allow fewer than 100 points. Philadelphia is 2-8 when the opposition scores more than 100 points. Last season’s third ranked defense is still their primary strength but the absence of Andre Iguodala has been sorely felt. Through 33 games, Doug Collins’ bunch is allowing 105.2 points per 100 possessions, 14th in the league.
The biggest difference is in rim protection. Teams have made 65.1 percent of their shots at the rim per Hoopdata, just a shade above-average. With a smaller lineup — 6-foot-9 Lavoy Allen is manning most of his minutes at center in the absence of center Andrew Bynum — Philly has ceded 3.9 more attempts per game in the paint than last year.
X-Factor: Though the 76ers have been plagued offensively and haven’t defended at an elite rate this season, Jrue Holiday’s maturation into a well-rounded point guard is the most encouraging development on a team still bereft of Bynum.
Averaging a team-high 38.5 minutes per game, Holiday has dished an average of nine assists, third in the league, along with 18.8 points per game. Both are career-highs. Not only do Holiday’s numbers shatter his previous highs — 14 points and 6.5 assists, respectively — but they put him in the upper echelon of point guards.
His current production puts him in the same class as Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. The three are the only players averaging at least 15 points and eight assists per game. LeBron James narrowly missed the cut.
Perhaps Holiday’s improvement can be attributed to the extra contact he is generating. Last season he averaged a lowly 1.8 free throw attempts per game. That has risen to 3.5 this season, a number that still is lower than desired. When he does slash into the lane successfully, Holiday is making 70 percent of his shots at the rim, fifth among point guards.
Philadelphia is trusting their 22-year-old point guard with more than a fourth of their possessions and that has paid off; they score 3.7 points per 100 possessions more with Holiday on the floor per NBA.com/Stats. The 76ers have a bunch of flaws, but they are significantly better with Holiday.