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76ers at Pistons: second half stretch begins with a challenge

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The Sixers have been quite a surprise this season. A team with a commitment to defense that has a stable of scoring options can do quite well in the Eastern Conference, even when dealing with condensed season injuries. If they enter the post-season healthy, they can challenge any team in this conference.

Game Tips at 7:30p.m. EST

Philadelphia 76ers: 20 - 14 (7 - 8 road)

Detroit Pistons: 11 - 24 (8 - 10 home)

The Situation:

The Philadelphia 76ers launched out of the gate this season to quickly earn a slot toward the top of the Eastern Conference rankings. They've built an admirable record by playing the best defense in the league, shutting down the opposition in transition, on pick-and-rolls and spot up offense. They're holding their competition to 87.5 points per game, the lowest in the league. They've been doing so even without the services of Spencer Hawes, who has been the team's most productive player in 2011-12.

Given that this year's Sixers are pretty much the same as last year's, why the improvement? Did it take time for this team to buy in to Doug Collins' system? Have the young Sixers finally approached their stride, and playing the best of their respective careers? Is their success the result of a crumbling of the Eastern Conference mainstays in Boston, Orlando and elsewhere? There are a lot of reasons, but the most remarkable aspect of Philly's game is their aforementioned defense. Hey, if anyone is going to credit a team's turnaround to a laser sharp focus on defense, it's a Pistons fan.

Despite the hot start, Philly has struggled of late. They've lost five straight, they're short on big men and their guards lost their shooting touch before the All Star break. While Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand are still missing tonight, don't expect the Sixers to continue their shooting woes after this short vacation. Will that be enough to overtake the Pistons? If they're forced to rely on Tony Battie and Lavoy Allen for extended minutes up front, this could very well be a toss-up.

Keys to the Game:

Feed the Moose - The Sixers are razor thin up front, and the moose is hungry. Greg recorded 30 and 14 in the last game before the break, doing so on 21 shots. That is the most he's received as a pro, and he deserves that usage more often. Tonight would be a great night to continue establishing Greg as the centrepiece of Detroit's offense.

Guard the Perimeter and Penetration - Without many scoring options up front tonight, Philly will earn its living with dribble penetration and perimeter shooting. They've got a lot of firepower on the wings, and defending that firepower is job one. Stay in front of your man, and don't be afraid to shy off a big man to double team Iguodala to force a turnover.

Be careful on PNRs and Spot-up attempts - Detroit's two most common offensive plays, pick-and-rolls and spot-up attempts, are the two plays Philly defends best. It might be a good night to keep Knight off the ball unless he's going for an iso play.

Question of the Game:

A win is very much in reach tonight, and Detroit hosts Charlotte tomorrow. Can Detroit finish this month above .500? A single win will do it.