Following yesterday's set of contradictory reports from his agent, Markelle Fultz will sit out tonight's game and the following two outings with shoulder soreness. He'll reportedly be re-evaluated following the third absence. Receiving a cortisone shot to reduce inflammation prior to the regular season, Fultz noticeably looked rather uncomfortable attempting jump shots. He even deferred on wide-open looks for easier jumpers or to attack the basket.
His free throw motion rivaled Shaquille O'Neal's, in terms of vileness. Yes, the notoriously cringe-y form. With rampant speculation regarding whether management foisted a new motion on him or he chose to revamp it, additionally to Fultz's mentality preventing him from shooting, Bryan Colangelo mentioned today that Fultz decided to change it. (Fultz's camp later refuted that claim.)
Bryan Colangelo speculates that Fultz changing his shooting motion on his own could have contributed to his shoulder soreness.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) October 25, 2017
Colangelo's handling, or mishandling, of the situation is a topic for another discussion. Fultz deservedly will miss tonight's game, recover, and fans won't have to speculate why he continues to look flummoxed as a shooter. Hopefully, we've departed from the darkest part of Fultz's NBA timeline.
Now, Brett Brown has to decide who fills the void. The most realistic scenario is inserting Justin Anderson back into the regular rotation and dispersing some of the excess minutes throughout. Anderson won't garner the full 19 MPG left behind from Fultz. These Sixers have to challenge Houston's very capable offense twice over the next three games. While they'll be without Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza, Anderson is a viable solution to check Eric Gordon.
Gordon's undergone a career renaissance in Space City, winning the 2017 Sixth Man of the Year Award and acting as Mike D'Antoni's secondary weapon alongside James Harden. It's worth noting that while Gordon's averaging a robust 23.5 PPG, he's struggling mightily from deep and has to create in CP3's absence. Anderson's length against the 6-foot-4 guard should offer needed resistance contesting shots and impeding his drives. Having Gordon roast a Nik Stauskas or Furkan Korkmaz isn't conducive to pulling out a W tonight.
For a team willing to shoot constantly behind the arc, Anderson doesn't have to worry as much about losing a foot race to the basket. Gordon, P.J. Tucker and D'Antoni's collection of bench wings/guards value the three while adhering to D'Antoni's system.
I haven't seen the developments from Anderson's jumper as much as some, and it's still pretty rigid. Nonetheless, Stauskas is an uninspiring option at this point and throwing Korkmaz into the fire against a Harden-run offense is potentially dangerous for the rookie.
Harden's bludgeoned Philadelphia over the years with voluminous scoring and a penchant for drawing fouls. He's an exceptionally tough assignment, and Jerryd Bayless will assuredly need reinforcements to contain him. Harden's wired to get into the paint when he can, and having Joel Embiid crushing in his minutes restriction and pushing the baseline for his playing time creates promise heading into tonight.
Brush aside his base defensive numbers and view Embiid under a lens of impact: he's had a real influence. When Embiid's on the floor, Philadelphia's allowing an average of 91.5 PPG per 100 possessions. When he's watching, the Sixers are allowing 113.2 PPG per 100 possessions.
Sure, the sample is just three games, but Embiid's forcing Brown to free him from his shackles and play late in matchups. Nene not manning the interior tonight could lead to a fatigued Clint Capela as the game progresses. Backup Tarik Black is far from instant offense, which helps Amir Johnson's cause. Johnson's underwhelmed through four games, and one less ball handler in the rotation forces Ben Simmons into added on-ball duty. It's a battle of the ball handlers, as Simmons (17.0 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 7.0 APG) and Harden (26.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 8.5 APG) duel at the Wells Fargo Center. Also, former Philadelphia 76ers guard Isaiah Canaan might be available after being acquired in the wake of Paul's injury last week.
Houston: James Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela
Philadelphia: Ben Simmons, Jerryd Bayless, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Joel Embiid
Houston: Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza and Nene are reportedly out.
Philadelphia: Markelle Fultz and Richaun Holmes are reportedly out.
5 Notable Numbers:
The Rockets are attempting 42.8 threes per game, which ranks first.
The Rockets are shooting 27.5 percent there, which ranks 28th.
Joel Embiid is shooting 93.1 percent from the line, an area he made a conscious effort to exploit Monday.
Dario Saric has only 2.4 APG per 36 minutes, and Brett Brown needs to emphasize his other point forward in a facilitating role.
The Sixers commit the third-most turnovers per game (18.5) and can't afford empty possessions with their shooting efficiency at this level.
How to Watch/Listen
Watch: NBC Sports Philly
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA.
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET