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By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Sixers (18-8) and the Los Angeles Clippers (15-8) are both in first place in their respective divisions, but they’ve done it in very different ways. The Sixers have been one of the biggest surprises in the league so far, winning with defense, allowing the second fewest points per game in the NBA. The Clippers were one of the most talked about teams coming into the season, with young stars like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and their trade for star point guard Chris Paul. The Clippers are scoring the fourth most points per game in the NBA.
Unstoppable force, meet immovable object.
“Force,” is probably the best way to describe Griffin’s game, he’s got the second most dunks in the NBA (65), trailing Orlando’s Dwight Howard by only one. One of those dunks is the most talked about of the year, over Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins. It was so impressive, it even drew Twitter praise from Miami’s Lebron James. The third-year forward is leading the team in both scoring (21.4), and rebounding (11.0).
The Clippers trade for Paul has worked out exactly as they’d hoped, with Paul scoring 18 points per game, and more importantly creating for Griffin and Jordan, dishing out over 9 assists per game. Paul’s stayed mostly healthy, playing 18 of the team’s 23 games.
The Sixers are finishing up a tough stretch, a seven-game run that included games against the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, and San Antonio Spurs. They’ve proven themselves as a legitimate threat during that time, going 4-2 in those games.
The Sixers learned this week they’d be sending two of their players to the NBA All-Star Weekend in Orlando, with Evan Turner being selected for the Rising Stars Challenge (see story), and Andre Iguodala earning his first All-Star Team selection (see story) on Thursday. Iguodala, who has impressed with his defense and all-around play, will be the first Sixers player to play in the All-Star game since Allen Iverson in 2006. He’s also the first member besides Iverson to be selected to the team since Dikembe Mutombo in 2002.
The match-up to keep an eye on will be the point guards, with Paul going up against the Sixers’ Jrue Holiday. Though Holiday’s defense has been solid this season, he and the team have allowed some big time pick and roll point guards to have big time games. Most recently being Tony Parker’s performance for the Spurs on Wednesday, scoring 37 points.
Both teams have fallen victim to big injuries. The Clippers will be without guard Chauncey Billups for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. The Sixers continue to wait for center Spencer Hawes’ Achilles injury to heal (see story), who is out for tonight’s game, and Elton Brand has been playing with an injured right thumb that has limited his effectiveness.