I’m going to go out on the world’s sturdiest limb here and say we won’t see Jahlil Okafor on the court tonight. Richaun Holmes should be back Friday, so that leaves a bunch of backup center minutes to Amir Johnson, coming off of his best game as a Sixer. On 6-for-10 shooting, Johnson posted his first double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) since April of 2016.
But Amir Johnson doesn’t matter right now (sorry Amir). The Sixers are coming off one of the most satisfying wins in recent memory. It wasn’t flashy, and it was nerve-wracking, but they held and maintained a lead from wire-to-wire against a healthy version of the 2nd best team in the NBA (probably). As our own Marc Whittington put it in his recap, it was “their most impressive win since Good Ship Process set sail.” He’s not wrong.
The team may be sitting in their comfortable home at the bottom of the league in fouls and turnovers, but if they look out of their winows with binoculars, they can see their spot near the top of the league in assists (4th), steals (7th, up 6.6% since last year), and 3P% (6th, 38.1%). Ben Simmons’ VORP is the same as Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Anthony Davis. He’s assisted on 137 points scored this season, or 19.5 per game. Add that to his point total and he averages giving the Sixers, via scoring or assisting, 38 points a game. And, VORP! I’ll stop talking about VORP now.
The point is, this team is still very, very young. There will still be learning curves. There will still be rust. But last game showed us who this team can be, even with youth and rust and inexperience, against one of the best teams in the league. Tonight’s opponent isn’t that, so of course if history is any reference they won’t make this easy.
The Atlanta Hawks come to town sporting a 1-6 record, with an average loss margin in their six losses of 10.3 points. They’re allowing opponents to out-steal, out-rebound, out-assist, out-shoot, and out-score them every night. Plus, they average only 3.4 blocks a game, while the Sixers as being blocked an astonishingly high 6.4 times per game. That’s ridiculous, but the Hawks shouldn’t reach that level.
Last game was the win we all wanted, but tonight’s game might actually tell us more about who this team is.
7:00 PM / Wells Fargo Center, Philaelphia / NBC Sports Network Philadelphia
Former Sixer Ersan Ilyasova would be returning to face a team he started 40 games for last season if he wasn’t injured. His Sixers tenure was a short one, but his play allowed Dario Saric to spend some time coming off the bench to get up to speed with the NBA game before starting after Ilyasova was traded and making a real run at the Rookie of the Year award. The trade that sent Ilyasova to Atlanta brought Tiago Splitter and the pick that became Mathias Lessort.
Speaking of Saric, he’s had rough games against the Hawks in his minimal time as an NBA player. In his highest scoring game against Atlanta, he put up 15/8/4 but only shot 27.8% from the field. In Joel Embiid’s only game against the Hawks, he scored 14 points to go with 2 rebounds and 2 blocks.
The banged-up Hawks will likely be without Ilyasova, former St. Joe’s standout DeAndre’ Bembry, and Miles Plumlee.
Since the 2013-2014 season, the Sixers are 1-14 against the Hawks. Atlanta has won their last 7 meetings.
*all stats via Basketball-Reference