As the Philadelphia 76ers (20-34) prepare for a matchup with the Charlotte Hornets (24-30) on Monday evening, the main thing on the minds of fans is whether or not Jahlil Okafor will still be on the team come Tuesday.
Head coach Brett Brown acknowledged that Okafor did not play in Saturday’s victory over the Miami Heat due to rampant trade speculation, and the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported that he was not on the team’s flight to Charlotte Sunday afternoon. At this point, Okafor’s tenure in Philadelphia has to be closing in on it’s conclusion, and leaving him off the team flight was the point of no return. Reports from multiple outlets have indicated that the New Orleans Pelicans and Chicago Bulls are the frontrunners to acquire the 21-year-old’s services.
The trade speculation certainly hasn’t slowed the Sixers down by any means. They snapped the Miami Heat’s 13 game win streak over the weekend in a 117-109 victory where seven players scored in double figures. Nerlens Noel, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric all tied for a team-high 19 points, and the defensive efforts of the trio helped Philadelphia garner 15 steals on the evening. They currently sit 5.5 games back from the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Hornets, who are currently just 1.5 games back, are struggling to stay afloat. They’re losers of nine of their last 10 games, and their only victory came in a four-point defeat over the Brooklyn Nets last Tuesday. Charlotte is most recently coming off a 107-102 defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers, where small forward Nicolas Batum led all scorers with 25 points.
Batum, in a (potentially ill-advised) attempt to awaken his poor performing teammates, issued a guarantee on Sunday that the Hornets would defeat the Sixers.
From Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer:
As guarantees go, this wasn't exactly Joe Namath correctly calling the outcome of the third Super Bowl.
Still, in these dark days, the Charlotte Hornets will take whatever they can get.
Nicolas Batum was talking late Saturday night about Monday's home game vs. Philadelphia when he said: "We're going to win this game on Monday. We will."
Are you guaranteeing it? I asked
"Yeah," he said.
The Hornets struggles over the past 10 games have been quite surprising. They’ve been in the upper half of the league in both offensive and defensive rating over that period, and have the lowest turnover rate in the NBA.
But this is not the Sixers team of yesteryear, and if Batum wants to avoid being embarrassed, they better be ready to match their opponents energy and effort.
Tip-off: 7:00 p.m.
TV: CSN Philly
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic