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Sixers vs. Bucks Preview: Jennings and Holiday face off in battle of all-star hopefuls

Fresh off a 3-1 road trip, the Bucks return home rested and hoping to put further ground between themselves and the 9th seeded Sixers.

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2012/2013 NBA Season
(21-18, 10-9 home)
(17-24, 6-14 road)
January 22, 2012
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:00 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Brandon Jennings PG Jrue Holiday
Monta Ellis SG Evan Turner
Luc Mbah a Moute SF Dorell Wright
Ersan Ilyasova PF Thaddeus Young
Larry Sanders C Lavoy Allen
2011/12 Advanced Stats
94.1 (5th) Pace 90.7 (23rd)
102.2 (27th) ORtg 101.9 (28th)
103.1 (6th) DRtg 106.4 ()

On the 76ers: Liberty Ballers | SB Nation Philadelphia | Philadunkia

Sixers update. Philly arrives in the Brew City 24 hours after a down-to-the-wire home loss to the Spurs on Monday. No shame in that, though Doug Collins' crew will rue what might have been after leading San Antonio for most of the fourth quarter. Prior to that the Sixers had won two of three, which in the context of the past six weeks qualifies as a hot streak. After starting 10-6, Philadelphia has won just seven of their subsequent 25 games and now sit 3.5 games adrift of the 8th seeded Celtics and five games behind the 7th seeded Bucks.

The problem for Philadelphia? Let's focus on the defense. Not because the Sixers are impressive offensively--they're one of only three teams worse than the Bucks on that end. But Philly couldn't score effectively last year either, yet they still won games thanks to a defense that ranked 3rd in the NBA in defensive efficiency. In contrast, this year's Sixers have been slightly below average defensively (18th) with predictable results. Dealing long-time cornerstone Andre Iguodala probably hasn't helped, and it's certainly possible that Doug Collins' message has simply gotten stale. Like Scott Skiles, Collins' coaching gigs typically come with an expiration date: though he's won games wherever he's been, Collins didn't last more than three years in any of his previous three coaching stops and he's now in (you guessed it) his third season with the Sixers.

All-stars. I'm still having a hard time wrapping my mind around the notion of Brandon Jennings being a legitimate all-star candidate, though it's not for a lack of people talking about it. Jim Boylan was talking in those terms after Jennings' two-way effort in Saturday night's win over the Blazers, while Alex has an interesting look at how Jennings and his backcourt competition has fared since the last all-star game. Charles Gardner writes:

"The thing about last year is I wasn't even on anybody's list," Jennings said in Portland. "I was in the same situation last year, maybe two games where I could have made it and I had bad games.

"So that's probably why. This year I'm not really thinking about it. But one thing I will say is we're winning. Last year we weren't in this position. If we can go 3-1 on this road trip and go home and get the 76ers, I don't see why not."

With Rajon Rondo starting, Jennings' stiffest competition for a reserve spot will likely come from fellow 2009 first round pick Jrue Holiday and Cleveland's superstar-in-waiting Kyrie Irving. Individually Irving has been as good as any point guard in the East this year, but 11 missed games and Cleveland's irrelevance in the standings might give some coaches pause when they fill out their ballots.

That might then leave one spot for Jennings and Holiday, and statistically it's close but still pretty clear-cut. While he's turned it over a ton, Holiday has been better than Jennings in virtually every other category, from scoring (19.4 ppg to 18.6 ppg) and assists (9.0 to 5.8) to advanced metrics like true shooting percentage (53.1% to 51.2%) and PER (19.7 vs. 17.4). But Jennings has the lead on Holiday in the standings, which is really the only trump card working in his favor. I'm skeptical that's enough to get Brandon to all-star weekend, but a big game against Holiday on Tuesday would certainly help. Jennings has also been helping himself of late: in 10 January games he's posting 21.5 ppg and 5.6 apg on .432/.364/.875 shooting while upping his free throw attempts by about 50%.

The Villain. So is Evan Turner actually any good? It seems like every time I catch a Sixer box score he's stuffing it with nice, well-rounded lines--15 points here, double-digit rebounds there, and six or seven assists to boot. His seasonal averages aren't quite so robust (13.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.4 apg), but they still would seem like definite progress for the former second overall pick. Heck, he's even started hitting three pointers at a very nice clip (39.5%), which was previously one of the major knocks on him. And yet Turner's PER (13.1) and win shares/48 (.044) remain below average, while his true shooting percentage has remained steadily absymal for three years now (48.4%, 47.8% and 49.1%). The latter owes largely to his shot chart's heavy skew towards jump shots, and he's not exactly terrific at the rim anyway (58.0%).

Lamb back. It shouldn't have much impact on Jim Boylan's rotations, but for the sake of covering our bases we should note that Doron Lamb was recalled by the Bucks on Monday following a forgettable couple games with Fort Wayne of the D-League. Keeping up a worrying trend we've seen most of the season in Milwaukee, Lamb shot just 5/22 from the field in two games with Fort Wayne before missing the team's last game with a sprained ankle. As to why Lamb was brought back so quickly, you might guess that Lamb's run with the Mad Ants may have been predicated on Fort Wayne's Western road trip coinciding with the Bucks' own West swing, though it doesn't seem like anything was really gained by Lamb's ineffective outings in the minors. Chin up, young man.