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Sixers-Celtics Preview: The Two Towers

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The 76ers open this season just as they left last season: with multiple injuries and a short bench. Despite this being the opening game of the season, the Sixers will only have nine or ten active, healthy players. Nik Stauskas is a game-time decision after missing the entire preseason with a stress reaction in his right tibia. And with a short roster on the road against a deep Celtics team, the Sixers will have an uphill battle to face.

The other nine players include projected starters Isaiah Canaan, JaKarr Sampson, Hollis Thompson, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor. The bench has second-year player Jerami Grant and rookies T.J. McConnell, Christian Wood, and Richaun Holmes, along with maybe Stauskas.

While the injury situation is unfortunate, the stars of the show are active and ready to go, and the focus will be on how much and how well Noel and Okafor perform on the court together.

The preseason didn't tell us much about how the duo will fare - preseason is hardly revealing, with teams using limited sets and wonky lineups and marginal NBA players. The Sixers also didn't have their full roster for a lot of the preseason, and the starting lineup tonight probably hasn't yet played together at all. Robert Covington's spacing will be sorely missed, and if Stauskas also misses the game it might not look pretty.

But individually, each showed a lot of promise. Okafor's footwork is exquisite, even if he's not using his size or strength effectively yet. Nerlens Noel looks primed for a monster defensive season, and when the Sixers play him with a legitimate point guard (that's T.J. McConnell, if you're wondering) he looks functional on offense. Together, they suffer from a lack of shooting and spacing, but with time the goal is that they learn how to manage the negatives and accentuate the positives.

Around them, the situation is somewhat bleak. The most experience in any lineup belongs to Hollis Thompson, entering his third season, and a clear lack of perimeter shooting or shot creation is evident. Brett Brown, friend of journalists in Philadelphia for his brute honestly and colorful quotes, said the Sixers need to get "ratty" and basically junk up the game to score and have a chance at winning.

He's optimistic, obviously. And that's not even the first time he's used the phrase "ratty" to describe what the team needs to do.

Meanwhile, the Sixers are facing a weirdly popular Celtics team. For whatever reason, a lot of people are on the team's bandwagon. Statistical projection systems like them, and apparently the roster now has a great future. While I refuse to argue against their future potential - mostly because the Nets made one of the worst trades in NBA history - the current team has a low ceiling. Only Isaiah Thomas profiles as an offensive centerpiece, and they lack average defenders for most of their rotation players.

But they're definitely better than the Sixers right now, and in the context of tonight that's all that really matters. The odds are against a win tonight, but don't let that stop you from tuning in. There's enough curiosity with Noel and Okafor to stick this one out.

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