By Connor Thomas
It was a rough weekend on the hardwood for Philadelphia, as the Sixers fell to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers in overtime on Saturday night. After the game, Doc Rivers questioned his team’s effort, saying “It looked like, honestly, we were running our offense like it was a walkthrough in the first half… This is one of those games where you watch the film and show [the team] a lack of effort instead of a lack of execution.” As the first half of the NBA season winds down this week, it will be imperative for the Sixers to put in effort to hang on to the top seed in the Eastern Conference, as the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks close in. Enter the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers come into Philly sitting in 9th place in the East, one game out of a playoff spot. While their sub-.500 record is nothing to be envied, Indiana is certainly not a pushover. Domantas Sabonis has put together an All-Star level first half, and though he wasn’t a coaches’ selection initially, he will fill in for the injured Kevin Durant in the All-Star game next week. In addition, Malcolm Brogdon has taken a jump in his 5th NBA season, scoring 5 more points per game than any of his previous 4 seasons. Luckily for the Sixers, Brogdon is listed as questionable for tonight’s contest with left knee soreness. If he is unable to go, the Sixers will face a team with only one player averaging more than 12 points per game. Even if Brogdon can go, he will have to deal with The Warden, as Ben Simmons will look to put yet another strong scorer in lockdown for a game.
The Sixers are not without question marks of their own, however. All-Star snub Tobias Harris is again listed as questionable with a leg contusion, and he is joined on the injury report by MVP candidate Joel Embiid who is also listed as questionable with an ankle injury. The Sixers are not quite limping to the All-Star break, but they have not been fully healthy for about a month now. I’m sure the week break will be welcome for the Sixers as they rev up for a brutal looking second half of the season. Before they get there, though, they will of course have to take care of business against Indiana tonight. If Harris and Embiid are unable to go, it will fall largely on the shoulders of Simmons to not just shut down the defensive end of the floor, but channel the version of himself that we saw during his 42 point performance against the Utah Jazz a few weeks ago. If the two end up being healthy, this should be a game that the Sixers enter as double digit favorites and win easily. Yet when they are missing one of their top 6 players (the 5 starters and 6th man Shake Milton), they are 7-11 on the year. If there is a positive spin on that trend, it’s that one of those 7 wins was against the Pacers back in January, without the help of Joel Embiid. It is still to be seen what Sixers take the floor, but any way you slice it, tonight should be a good opportunity for a win for the home team.
The offensive matchup of the game for the Sixers will be Shake Milton against the reserves of the Pacers. Milton has rounded back into form since returning from an ankle injury, averaging 10.3 PPG in the past 4 games. He may very well get the start if Harris and Embiid are out, but Furkan Korkmaz filled that role Saturday against Cleveland. If Milton does come off the bench per usual, a big scoring night would be huge for the Sixers.
The defensive matchup of the game for the Sixers is a layup at this point of the season, but it is Defensive Player of the Year candidate Ben Simmons against Malcolm Brogdon. Simmons has become an elite disruptor, capable of shutting down even the league’s brightest stars. If the questionable Brogdon does indeed play, Simmons will be tasked with neutralizing the 20 PPG scorer in order to improve Philly’s chances in the contest.
TV: NBC Sports Philadelphia
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