10:00 PM EST, TNT – Line: 76ers -3.5, Over/Under: 220.5
The National Basketball Association may take a backseat to the NCAA tournament this time of year, but that’s not to say that there aren’t palpable matchups to be found, which is precisely the case tonight as the East-leading Philadelphia 76ers head westward to battle the depleted Golden State Warriors from Chase Center in San Francisco, California. After an underachieving finish to the 2019-2020 campaign which saw them swept in the First Round of the Playoffs, the 76ers (30-13, 1st in Eastern Conference) have since evolved into one of the prime heavyweights in the East, though it wasn’t without some seismic changes. The organization made good use of the abnormally truncated offseason, parting ways with longtime Head Coach Brett Brown and reassigning (General Manager) Elton Brand, essentially replacing both figures with the likes of (former Rockets’ General Manager) Daryl Morey and (former Clippers’ Head Coach) Doc Rivers in relatively short order. Both Morey and Rivers have had a massive influence on the roster’s improvement, with the former Executive of the Year quickly putting his stamp on the personnel as he jettisoned (former All-Star Forward) Al Horford and (young Guard) Josh Richardson in separate deals in exchange for (sharpshooting sniper) Seth Curry (12.9 PTS, 46.2% FG, 43.2% 3FG, 2.2 REB, 2.9 AST, 0.9 STL, 12.8 PER) and (three-time NBA Champion) Danny Green (9.1 PTS, 40.2% FG, 39.0% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.9 BLK, 10.9 PER) in an attempt to bring some sorely needed shooting and spacing to the floor. Their presence has really opened things up for their teammates on the offensive end, which has allowed Rivers to incorporate a more balanced approach without sacrificing anything defensively. Oh, and the well-traveled 59-year old has gotten the most out of the team’s nucleus of talent, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone at this point. (All-Star Swingman) Tobias Harris (20.7 PTS, 50.8% FG, 41.2% 3FG, 7.5 REB, 3.6 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.8 BLK, 20.3 PER) has looked far more comfortable within this system, posting career-highs in a slew of categories including points (20.7), field goal percentage (50.8%), three-point percentage (41.2%), and assists (3.6), while (All-NBA Center) Joel Embiid (29.9 PTS, 52.5% FG, 42.2% 3FG, 11.5 REB, 3.3 AST, 1.2 STL, 1.4 BLK, 31.6 PER) has evolved into a bonafide MVP candidate. The towering Cameroon international has worked himself into the best shape of his life, enjoying career-bests across the board including points (29.9) field goal percentage (52.5%), three-point percentage (42.2%), two-point percentage (54.5%), free-throw percentage (85.9%), and steals (1.2), all the while playing for more disciplined basketball reflected in a career-low 2.5 fouls per contest. The 27-year old has certainly become a force under Rivers’ watch, aided largely from the healthiest stretch of play of his career. Unfortunately, the four-time All-Star suffered a hyperextended right knee in a 127-101 romp over the Washington Wizards back on March 12th, and will be re-evaluated in another two weeks time. Needless to say, given his lengthy injury history the Sixers will take every precaution when it comes getting their big man back to 100% health, and when you consider their recent string of success without him on the hardwood they’ve been afforded the luxury of being even more patient. Winners of four out of five games since Embiid was sidelined, Philly hasn’t lost a step without their leading scorer, averaging a robust 113.6 points per outing on 47.7% shooting from the field, including 41.3% from beyond the arc, with 25.0 assists in comparison to committing 14.0 turnovers, while yielding just 101.8 points on 43.1% shooting and 30.9% from three, and 21.0 assists opposed to forcing 13.6 turnovers. So how in the hell have they managed to do this you ask? Well, it certainly helps to have a unique talent like Ben Simmons (15.9 PTS, 56.7% FG, 37.5% 3FG, 8.0 REB, 7.7 AST, 1.5 STL, 0.7 BLK, 19.2 PER) running the show, with the 24-year old Point Guard setting the tone on both ends of the court. The three-time All-Star has routinely been criticized for what he isn’t (a willing three-point shooter) and not praised enough for what he does well, which is quite frankly EVERYTHING ELSE; blessed with Point Guard skills packed within a 6-11 frame, Simmons is a nightmare in transition, while becoming a more well-rounded threat in the post, with his length and athleticism allowing him to comfortably defend just about every position on the hardwood. In the last five games without his massive teammate, he has averaged 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 8.0 assists, while shooting a stellar 50.0% from the floor. As expected, Harris has helped fill the scoring void, with 24.2 points per game over this span, while Curry dropped twenty or more in back-to-back games before checking into the trainer’s room with a tender ankle. (Turkish sniper) Furkan Korkmaz (9.2 PTS, 40.2% FG, 37.1% 3FG, 2.2 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.8 STL, 11.6 PER) has also stepped up in a major way for a maligned bench unit, scoring 11.6 points over the last five contests, knocking down a late dagger in last week’s 99-96 victory over the New York Knicks. Rivers’ charges have also been manhandling the opposition on the glass without Embiid, with (veteran Center) Dwight Howard (6.7 PTS, 58.4% FG, 8.1 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.4 STL, 1.0 BLK, 15.9 PER) posting 12.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in increased minutes over the last five games, as the 76ers have outrebounded their opponents by a commanding 8.6 boards per night. The 35-year old played a large role in the Los Angeles Lakers’ championship run last year, and his presence has been essential in keeping the ball rolling in Philadelphia with Embiid on the mend.
“If we make a move, great. If we don’t, we love our team. There’s no move we can make more important than getting Joel back out there.”Doc Rivers on the 76ers possibly making a move before Thursday’s Trade Deadline as Joel Embiid missed his fifth consecutive game after hyperextending his right knee on March 12th
When we last saw the 76ers, they extended their run after the All-Star Break to 5-1 with their second narrow victory over the New York Knicks in a span of five days, this time edging them 101-100 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night. When they met on St. Patrick’s Day it took some late buckets from the reserves such as Matisse Thybulle (3.8 PTS, 41.7% FG, 32.1% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 1.0 AST, 1.5 STL, 1.0 BLK, 10.6 PER) and the aforementioned Korkmaz before Harris, who led the hosts with thirty points on 11-of-20 shooting (55.0%), put the affair away via a late jumper, 99-96. Make no mistake, this meeting between Atlantic Division rivals was nothing short of a defensive struggle with both teams struggling to put the ball in the basket, it would be the visitors who would capitalize on the opportunities afforded them late in the contest. With the visitors leading 100-96 late in the Fourth Quarter, Harris would draw Philadelphia within one point via a three-pointer, and would then head to the charity stripe after he was fouled lunging for the rebound on the ensuing possession with just 5.3 seconds left to play. He would calmly drain both free-throws to take a slim lead, as the Sixers would hold strong on the final possession with Julius Randle’s attempted game-winner falling short. In the end, Rivers’ troops shot 46.3% from the field, including 11-of-25 from beyond the arc (44.0%), though committed as many turnovers (19) as they managed assists. Harris wasn’t nearly as efficient in this rematch with New York, totaling twenty points but struggling on 5-of-18 shooting (27.8%), though made up for it at the stripe with 9-of-11 shooting (81.8%). Simmons would added sixteen points, eight rebounds, and four assists, but accounted for seven of his side’s turnovers, leaving it up to the reserves to ultimately make the difference. (Third-year Guard) Shake Milton (13.9 PTS, 44.9% FG, 30.7% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 3.1 AST, 0.7 STL, 14.4 PER) scored a team-high twenty-one points on 9-of-15 shooting (60.0%), while Howard totaled thirteen rebounds and a pair of blocks off the bench, with Korkmaz chipping in with another dozen points in a rare starting role. Defensively, they relegated the hosts to 43.2% shooting overall, while forcing seventeen turnovers and permitting just sixteen assists. Furthermore, neither team shot particularly well from the free-throw line, though New York was dismal in this regard, netting on 12-of-23 attempts (56.5%) which looms rather large in such a tightly-contested affair. This was the Sixers’ fifteenth straight victory over the Knicks, which coincidentally kicked off a six-game road trip with the bulk of their travels being in the west. In fact, nine of their next eleven games will be on the road, which is significant when you consider that this has long been a team that while proving to be dominant at home has frequently struggled away from the friendly confines of Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was a disappointing 12-26 on the road last season, though have improved in this area under Rivers winning eleven of twenty away from home, including each of their last four. With Embiid likely out for at least another two weeks, they’ll need to keep it moving if they wish to maintain their grip on First Place in the Eastern Conference as the loaded Brooklyn Nets continue to breath down their collective necks. Tonight’s meeting with the Warriors will mark the first this season, with the second coming on April 19th. We’ll have to wait until then to see a proper reunion between Curry and his more decorated older brother, Steph, for the younger sibling is likely to miss his third consecutive game with that sore ankle. Also, with the NBA Trade Deadline looming this Thursday, keep an eye on the Sixers who could stand to bolster their ranks in lieu of the Playoffs; while Rivers has stated that he would prefer to just get a healthy Embiid back in the lineup, Morey on the other hand is always one of the most active executives in this regard, so adding a veteran shooter like say, Oklahoma City’s George Hill, wouldn’t be surprising.
Meanwhile, as one team looks to remain at summit of their conference, the Warriors (22-21, 9th in Western Conference) are simply fighting for the Playoff lives. The inequality between the two conferences is going into it’s third decade, as Golden State finds themselves in a glut of four teams who are separated by a game apiece for seeds seven through ten. Of course, the Association will be incorporating a revised play-in tournament this season, meaning that the ninth and tenth seeds have an opportunity to advance into the First Round of the Playoffs. With that said, it still feels odd to find this team in such a predicament, for after all it wasn’t that long ago that they were the class the of the NBA for a highly-decorated five-year span; from 2014 to 2019 they won five consecutive Western Conference Titles and three NBA Championships, while breaking the single-season record for wins (73) along the way. However, everything changed during the 2019 Finals in which they met their demise at the hands of the Toronto Raptors. Four-time Scoring Champion, Kevin Durant, ended his stay in the Bay Area after tearing his Achilles in the Finals, departing for Brooklyn in Free Agency, while All-Star Guard, Klay Thompson, would miss the entirety of the 2019-2020 campaign due to a torn ACL that he suffered in that same series. (Two-time MVP) Steph Curry (29.0 PTS, 47.5% FG, 40.8% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 6.2 AST, 1.4 STL, 24.8 PER) would then break his hand after just four games of that same season, missing the next fifty-eight contests before the league abruptly went on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Steve Kerr’s charges would not be one of the twenty-two teams that were invited to the Bubble in Orlando, mercifully ending their miserable season at 15-50, their worst finish since the turn of the century. However, as one of the few clubs to receive an extended offseason thanks to that hiatus, all signs pointed to a successful return for the Dubs, who with a healthy Curry and Thompson coupled with the likes of (former No. One Overall Pick) Andrew Wiggins (17.8 PTS, 47.0% FG, 37.9% 3FG, 4.7 REB, 2.1 AST, 1.STL, 1.0 BLK, 14.3 PER) and 2020-2021 No. 2 Overall Pick, James Wiseman (11.8 PTS, 52.6% FG, 36.7% 3FG, 6.0 REB, 0.6 AST, 1.0 BLK, 14.4 PER), were expected to fit right back into upper hierarchy out West. Unfortunately, that would not be the case, as Thompson would tear his Achilles in a pickup game shortly before training camp opened up, which completely altered the franchise’s outlook heading into this season, for it became crystal clear that this group would only go as far as Curry would carry them. In many ways, the lethal 32-year old sniper has never looked better, but this supporting cast has been ill-suited to complement him, for he has seen more double-teams than ever with opposing defenses geared towards slowing him down. Neither Wiggins nor (veteran Swingman) Kelly Oubre (14.9 PTS, 43.4% FG, 30.2% 3FG, 5.8 REB, 1.3 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.8 BLK, 12.7 PER) possesses the shooting to provide the spacing that the Warriors enjoyed for so many years, while the bench simply doesn’t have the firepower that he could boast during their championship era. And then there are the injuries that have persistently kept this group from gelling into a more cohesive unit; in addition to Thompson’s Achilles tear, Wiseman missed eleven straight games with a sprained wrist, while being held out of the last three contests due to the league’s COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols, which included a missed test that further prolonged his absence. Furthermore, (Forwards) Kevon Looney (4.0 PTS, 59.8% FG, 4.1 REB, 1.6 AST, 14.2 PER) and Eric Paschall (9.5 PTS, 49.3% FG, 30.6% 3FG, 3.2 REB, 1.3 AST, 13.2 PER) are also out due to Health and Safety Protocols, while Marquese Chriss (6.5 PTS, 35.7% FG, 20.0% 3FG, 6.5 REB, 1.0 AST, 1.0 BLK, 11.8 PER) is out for the season with a broken leg. Oh, and Curry himself has missed each of the last two outings after bruising his tailbone falling the floor in last Thursday’s 108-94 victory over the Rockets. As you can imagine, their depth has been severely depleted, and with their postseason hopes hanging in the balance, it’s no surprise that they’ve been one of the most active teams heading towards the Trade Deadline. Though they’d prefer to keep him, Wiseman would garner plenty of interest on the market, and with Minnesota’s (top-3 protected) 2021 Draft Pick in their hands, they do have the requisite firepower to pull off a blockbuster if the opportunity presented itself. After all, Curry isn’t getting any younger, while Thompson and (versatile Forward) Draymond Green (6.1 PTS, 40.1% FG, 25.0% 3FG, 6.5 REB, 8.5 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.8 BLK, 11.9 PER) are both 31-years of age respectively, so bringing in a veteran to maximize the remaining prime of his career is realistic. However, what exactly is out there? Washington’s Bradley Beal would make a ton of sense, but neither the Wizards (or the player himself) have entertained any offers, while Houston’s Victor Oladipo would boost the Backcourt greatly, but he won’t come cheap at all. At this point it appears that Golden State may just have to hope they can get over this latest rut with COVID and rely on Curry to work his magic for this is the roster that they have to work with moving forward.
“I was disappointed we let them off the hook. We had every opportunity in the second quarter to take control of that game. We just made too many mistakes.”Steve Kerr on the Warriors 111-103 loss to the Grizzlies on Saturday night in which they relinquished a lead late despite missing a wealth of players due to injury and the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols
When we last saw the Warriors, they ended up splitting their two-game set with the Memphis Grizzlies, dropping the second leg 111-103 after taking the first one the night beforehand. After besting Memphis 116-103 without the likes of Curry, Wiseman, Paschall, and Chriss, Golden State wasn’t able to pull off that trick twice against a side that they are in direct competition with in the race for the Playoffs. With both teams shooting poorly as they were clearly fatigued from the previous meeting, Golden state amassed a narrow 51-49 lead at Halftime, and would eventually lead 100-99 with just 2:43 left to play in the affair. However, the hosts would erupt on an 8-0 run down the stretch to put the game out of hand. As a team, the visitors shot just 34.4% from the field, including a dismal 13-of-41 from beyond the arc (31.7%), though stayed in it on the strength of their free-throw shooting (28-of-34). With that said, they were utterly manhandled on the glass (Minus-14), and couldn’t keep the home side off the charity stripe themselves (27-of-31). A night after dropping a season-high forty points, Wiggins could muster just twenty on 4-of-14 shooting (28.6%), with half of his scoring output coming from the line (10-of-12). (Sophomore Shooting Guard) Jordan Poole (10.4 PTS, 50.0% FG, 39.6% 3FG, 1.5 REB, 1.4 AST, 19.9 PER) led the team with a career-high twenty-six points on 10-of-21 shooting (47.6%), with four rebounds and five assists. After participating in the first leg of this set, Looney missed this one due to contact tracing, meaning the Kerr had to rely upon seldom-used Alen Smailagic (1.7 PTS, 38.6% FG, -9.0 PER) to start at Center and defend Memphis’ Jonas Valanciunas, who showed out with nineteen points and fifteen rebounds, while the youngster accumulated five fouls in just eight minutes of action. The aforementioned Green added seven points, eight rebounds, and three assists, while Oubre finished with twelve points and six boards. Though the Grizzlies didn’t shoot well, they fared better than their visiting side, netting 38.9% of their attempts overall, including 10-of-32 from downtown (31.3%), and dishing out twenty-five assists in comparison to committing only a dozen turnovers. With the game being slowed to a crawl due to both teams attempting over thirty free-throws apiece, Memphis managed to achieve more success in transition, outscoring the Duns 12-5 in fast break points, while owning them in the paint, 46-32. With this injury crisis in full bloom, Kerr openly thought about taking his team across state lines to Mississippi, which is just fifteen miles away from Memphis and offering vaccinations for anyone over the age of sixteen, in order to get vaccinated and rejuvenated in time to play. It remains to be seen whether or not any of these players will be available for tonight’s meeting with the 76ers, including Curry who is labeled as Day-to-Day with that aforementioned tailbone bruise.