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Bob Ford: For Sixers, rebounding and free throws will be key

During the regular season, the 76ers won only eight games in which they both outrebounded and made more free throws than the opposition.

"That's their advantage, and we have to meet it," Doug Collins said about the Bulls' size and strength. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
"That's their advantage, and we have to meet it," Doug Collins said about the Bulls' size and strength. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)Read more

During the regular season, the 76ers won only eight games in which they both outrebounded and made more free throws than the opposition.

Those are the building blocks of professional basketball, but they are not what the Sixers do particularly well. At their best, the Sixers win the turnover battles, limit the opponent's shooting percentage, and scoop up easy points with their fastbreak game.

Being able to control the basket area - drawing contact to get free throws, and grabbing the contested rebounds - is what every coach would like his team to do. Doug Collins of the 76ers has a roster that isn't made for that kind of basketball, and he has to find other ways to win almost all the time.

Game 2 of the opening-round series against Chicago, however, was another of those exceptions: just the ninth time the Sixers won this season by being the dominant team in the paint. They outrebounded the Bulls and they converted more free-throw attempts.

When the series resumes in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, look for Chicago to reassert itself around the basket. It might not be pretty. In fact, it might be brutish. But that is what the Bulls will try to do.

"They'll be coming at us with more force. They know their advantage is to try to mash us. They know their guys are bigger and stronger inside. That's their advantage, and we have to meet it," Collins said after putting the Sixers through a long practice and film session on Thursday. "[Coach] Tom Thibodeau is a meat-and-potatoes guy. He's not going to reinvent the wheel. He's going to want the Bulls to do what they do, but do it better and do it stronger. He knows his advantage of his big guys rebounding the ball. He won't want to lose that."

Somewhere in the third quarter of Game 2, the Bulls did lose it. They had 11 second-chance shots made possible by offensive rebounds in the first half - and converted just twice, which might have saved the Sixers - but they got just four second-chance shots in the second half.

Chicago's rebounding dried up and the Bulls stopped looking inside, settling for jump shots and usually missing. The 109-92 Sixers win was a good reminder that even good teams have to work hard to compete, and the dirty work is the best work of all.

"I expect them to come with a lot of aggression, a lot of energy, to get offensive rebounds and try to get to the line," Elton Brand said. "They did that in the first game and they'll try to get back to that."

What can the Sixers do to offset a motivated inside game from Chicago? Well, first, they'll have to see how the aggression takes form. Collins thinks the Bulls will use less motion on the perimeter to free up Rip Hamilton or Kyle Korver for jump shots, and will use more pick-and-roll and screen-and-roll sets to get the ball handlers onto the paint.

Once there, the Bulls will have some options. Take the ball to the rim and probably get to the line, or dish it off if the Sixers' defensive rotations aren't quick enough. With Joakim Noah (6-foot-11), Carlos Boozer (6-9), and Luol Deng (6-8) taking up lots of vertical space, it will be a task for the Sixers to match up. Of course, they did that in Game 2 and just need to repeat the effort.

"You have to limit those rebounds. That's what really kills you. It gives them extra possessions," guard Evan Turner said. "The tougher team will win. The tougher team always wins, and if you're tough enough to get offensive rebounds, you put your team in a great situation."

Toughness, especially under the basket, is something the Sixers have to work at continually. Neither Spencer Hawes nor Lavoy Allen is a dominating presence at the center position, and while Brand is a tough power forward he isn't as quick as many of the players he must try to contain. It is a simple matter of having a roster that is good at some things, but not others.

"They are definitely going to hit us first and try to attack the glass," Andre Iguodala said. "When we get hurt on the boards, that's when we tend to get in trouble. They will want to get the ball into the paint, and we have to prevent that."

Easier said than done, but at least the Sixers know what the task will be. And they have a confidence-builder in their back pocket - the Game 2 win.

"I told the guys that as the series goes on, as much as we talk about X's and O's and the adjustments and the tape you watch, it comes down to the will to get the ball where you're supposed to get it, the will to get that rebound, the will to get that 50-50 ball," Collins said.

They had the will Tuesday. Now they need it the rest of the series. Rebounding and free throws. That's not where every game is won, but it is where these will be.