By Connor Thomas
Tonight, Sixers and Jazz fans get an absolute treat for the teams’ final game of the first half of the NBA Season as the top seeds in the Eastern and Western Conference face off, this time trading in the lakes of Utah for the Delaware River Bank. This is the second installment of a marquee matchup between the two sides, following a 134-123 Jazz victory back in mid-February. That game, if you’ll remember, was played without the presence of one Joel Embiid, who has only put together an MVP caliber first half of the season. That being said, the first meeting of the teams also saw a career high 42 point performance from Ben Simmons and a 36 point showing from Tobias Harris. With Embiid and Simmons both projected to play, and Harris potentially returning from his leg injury, Philadelphia’s big three will have to be in tip top shape if they want to finish out their first half on a high note. The Jazz have cooled off a little bit from the red hot stretch they were on when the teams first faced off, but they still hold a 3.5 game advantage over the rest of the Western Conference. Much of the reason behind Utah’s 27-8 league best record is the combination of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, who are both reserves on the Western Conference All-Star roster this year. Each of those two stars had their impact on the first game with Philadelphia, but the largest part in the win was played by bench player Jordan Clarkson. Clarkson, a guard who has long been a capable scorer in the NBA, torched the Sixers for a 40 piece back in that February matchup, knocking down 8 3 pointers and shooting 65% from the floor. Brace yourselves for this hot take: I’m guessing the Sixers will try to keep Clarkson under 40 points tonight at the Wells Fargo Center.
Even if they are able to do so, Doc Rivers’ side will still have their hands full trying to contain Mitchell and trying to score on Gobert. The Sixers have split their first two games against 1 seeds, as they were able to knock off the Los Angeles Lakers in January and fell in the aforementioned Jazz game, so this will be the rubber match of top matchups for the first half of the regular season. If Philly is able to pull off the win they will also lock their position as the top seed in the East through the All-Star break, which in the grand scheme of everything really doesn’t mean all that much, but would be a nice checkpoint in the season of a championship contender.
The offensive matchup of the game for the Sixers will be Ben Simmons against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Yes, Gobert doesn’t technically cover Simmons, but as an elite rim protector, Gobert had to have been upset with allowing Ben to get to the rim with ease last time the teams met. It’s hard to expect 42 more points, but Simmons will have to be aggressive and efficient again when attacking the paint tonight.
The defensive matchup of the game for the Sixers will be Matisse Thybulle against Jordan Clarkson. I would be floored if Clarkson is not tailed by Thybulle for a large portion of his time on the floor tonight. Matisse has been an elite defender in short spurts this year, so his ability to neutralize the Jazz’s top bench scorer would be a huge part of a Sixers victory if he is able to do so.
TV: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: Right here on 97.5 The Fanatic!