By Connor Thomas
The past couple of days in the Greater Philadelphia Area have been quiet, and not just because of everyone being snowed in by the nor’easter that just rolled through. There has not been a game played in any sport since Sunday night, but tonight that lull will be broken by a trip to Charlotte for the 76ers. The Sixers had won their last 3 games prior to the short hiatus, a streak that has helped the team extend their lead over the rest of the Eastern Conference. While the Charlotte Hornets are currently a playoff team in the East, and are starting to play a little more consistent ball, the Sixers dominated them in the 2 previous meetings so far this year. The two got together for a 2 game series in South Philly back in early January, and the Sixers were not remotely threatened with a loss in either game, winning by 15 and then 17. Since those contests, well, Joel Embiid has only gotten better, and the Sixers have continued to gel as a team. They have the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month in Doc Rivers and Embiid was lauded with Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors as well. Embiid, who is averaging 28.3 ppg on the year, only scored 19 and 14 in each of those first two matchups. He has become a different beast since then, a nearly unstoppable force that seems hell bent on dunking, euro stepping, smooth-shooting, and swatting his way to an MVP trophy.
The Hornets are not without talent, as Terry Rozier is having a solid season, and #2 pick LaMelo Ball was just named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month. However Rozier did miss Monday night’s game for Charlotte, and is still listed as questionable for tonight. If he is unable to go, an already tough game for the Hornets will become even more of an uphill battle. The fact of the matter when looking at this matchup is that earlier this year the Sixers handled the Hornets easily, two times in a row, and without Embiid playing at his peak. There is no reason to believe that tonight’s contest should go any differently for Philly. The only possible red flag is that the Sixers are on the front end of a back to back, with the 2nd game being against a much more talented Portland Trailblazers team tomorrow night. This could potentially be viewed as a trap game, but as long as Embiid plays, the Sixers have taken care of the teams they’re supposed to beat so far this year. It is hard to see a way for Charlotte to compete tonight, much less actually win.
The offensive matchup of the game for the Sixers will be Joel Embiid against Cody Zeller. Zeller is a below average NBA big man, and Embiid may very well be the best center on the planet right now. With a couple days off to rest an ailing back, Embiid should have no trouble getting his in the Queen City.
The defensive matchup of the game for the Sixers will be Ben Simmons against LaMelo Ball. Ball is budding into a young star for the Hornets, but Simmons is already an elite defender. Despite a strong start to his rookie campaign, this will be one of the tougher tasks that the Charlotte point man will face all year.
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