By Connor Thomas
The Sixers had an off day yesterday as they traveled back from Tampa and enjoyed their win over the Raptors. But as far as off days go, yesterday was a tough one for the team. That is because the second half of the NBA schedule was released, and boy do the Sixers have their work cut out for them. With Brooklyn and Milwaukee already breathing down their neck, the margin for error in winnable games has now gotten slimmer. So with that in mind, Philadelphia has a very winnable game tonight at the Wells Fargo Center against the 15-15 Dallas Mavericks. Now Dallas still has Luka Doncic, who is a threat to score 30+ every time he touches the floor, but it has been a disappointing season so far for Doncic and company. The main issue in Dallas is the lack of supporting cast, as Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway are the only other players averaging over 13 points per game. And, much to the Sixers benefit, Porzingis has been hampered by back stiffness that has caused him to miss the Maverick’s last 2 games. He is listed as questionable for tonight’s contest in Philly, but even if he does go it does not seem like he will be at full strength. Now, the Mavericks have heated up after a cold start to the year, winning 6 of their last 7 games, but every single one of those 7 games have been home games. Tonight’s game marks the first road contest for the Mavs in 22 days. The Sixers hope that this means the discomfort of the road will cool off Doncic and company.
Philly, on the other hand, will look to stay hot, as they have won 3 of their last 4 games. The Eastern Conference race is tightening up a bit, so it would be nice to finish off the first half of the season with a couple strong wins. The good news for the Sixers is that it seems like the team’s health is improving as of late. Coming off of a game where Joel Embiid had one of his more quiet performances on the year, it would be a solid bet to assume that he will be back to his 30 point self tonight. Fellow All-Star Ben Simmons has also been a revelation over the past two weeks, taking his aggressiveness to a higher level than what was seen from him earlier in the year. Pair that with Tobias Harris, who will have a chip on his shoulder following a snub from the All-Star game despite his strong first half, and the Sixers should be favored to knock off the fighting Mark Cubans tonight.
The offensive matchup of the game will be Joel Embiid against either Porzingis or Willie Cauley-Stein. If Porzingis can’t go, Embiid should eat more than a fat kid at a buffet against Cauley-Stein. The only other viable options defensively against the Sixers’ big man are the 6’10” Dwight Powell and former Sixer Boban Marjanovic. Marjanovic is gigantic, but with Embiid’s skillset, he should be able to excel against any of the men guarding him.
The defensive matchup of the game will be Ben Simmons on Luka Doncic. In last year’s lone matchup with the Mavericks, Simmons spent the 2nd most time guarding Doncic, just behind Josh Richardson. With Josh Richardson now on the Mavs himself, it will fall largely on Simmons to neutralize the 3rd year star out of Slovenia.
TV: TNT; NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: Right here on 97.5 The Fanatic!