Coming off their second win of the season Saturday night in Phoenix, the Sixers look to make it two straight on the road for the first time since December of last year. Fortunately, Monday night’s game in Salt Lake City comes against a Utah Jazz team that’s lost six of its last eight games, including its two most-recent contests. Still, it was only two months ago that the Sixers were trounced by the Jazz, 99-71, in their home opener at Wells Fargo Center, and Utah is currently engaged in a seven-team battle for the #8 seed in the West.
Philadelphia will be without Jahlil Okafor for the second straight game due to soreness in his right knee. With him out of the lineup against the Suns, the Sixers were able to push the pace with newly acquired point guard/god Ish Smith, and Nerlens Noel benefitted tremendously as a result. He finished with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, as the Sixers won 111-104. Sliding from power forward to his more natural position anchoring the team’s defense, Noel looked much more comfortable on that end of the floor. He finished with five combined blocks and steals, a feat he hadn’t accomplished since November 6 despite doing so 23 times in 75 games last year.
Noel is set up for another successful showing against the Jazz, who will be without defensive (and literal) juggernaut Rudy Gobert (knee) and may also be without stalwart two-way standout Derrick Favors (back). If Utah is missing both players Monday night, Trevor Booker could start at power forward alongside center Jeff Withey. Sophomore Dante Exum remains sidelined while recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL, and fellow guard Alec Burks recently suffered a fractured fibula and will likely miss the next 6-8 weeks of action.
Saturday’s win over Phoenix was sparked by 57 points scored off the bench, led by Nik Stauskas (17 points on 7-of-10 shooting) and Carl Landry (16 points also on 7-of-10 shooting). Hopefully the historically sharpshooting Stauskas has broken out of a season-long funk that has seen him shoot just 36.2% from the floor and convert just 31.1% of his three-point attempts deemed "open" by NBA.com. Landry, the team’s elder statesman at 32 years of age, has been a pleasant surprise since returning from an offseason calf injury two games ago. The veteran big man remains limited to 25 minutes per game as he works his way back into shape but has put up 26 points and 13 rebounds in 36 total minutes of action so far this year.
The Sixers are hoping that Robert Covington gets back on track after nearly three weeks of poor shooting from beyond the arc. Last season’s scoring leader for Philadelphia (943, 13.5 PPG), the 25-year-old Covington has hit just 16 of his last 62 three-pointers (25.8%) dating back to December 10 (10 games). He was held scoreless on seven shots against Phoenix and logged just 13 minutes despite not picking up a single foul; he only played one minute and 17 seconds after halftime. His effectiveness was hindered early in the year by a knee injury that forced him to miss nine of the Sixers’ first 10 games this season, and although he’s not listed on the team’s official injury report he’s played just 19.4 minutes per game over Philadelphia’s last five games. Perhaps, though, he’s simply in a slump and Brett Brown has decided to lean more heavily upon JaKarr Sampson and Hollis Thompson until he breaks out of it.
Some Other Notes:
This will be Mike D’Antoni’s second game on the bench for Philadelphia, but yesterday was his first official practice session with the team. Pay attention to pace, pick-and-roll, and possible alterations to the rotation.
• Losing to the Sixers is so embarrassing at this point that it’s pretty much a fireable offense.
• Richaun Holmes will play against the Jazz after being knocked out of Monday’s game with a minor knee injury.
• Jahlil Okafor should be back Wednesday against Sacramento, so we can soon go back to barking at one another about him in the comments!
• This game is the third in a stretch of seven consecutive road games that ends Saturday against the Clippers, with games against the Kings and Lakers in between.
• The Sixers are 2-30. On this day last year, they were 4-25. Breathe.