If you’re looking to pinpoint what the most befuddling loss of the season was for the 76ers so far, it’s got to be their November 23rd loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland won 121-112. It wasn’t a back-to-back. The Sixers had their whole big three. It was a home game. You can read the Liberty Ballers recap of it if you want to relive that night, for some reason.
Things could be different this time.
Philadelphia (19-11) travels to Cleveland to face a Cavaliers team that is 7-22 on the season, though they have won two of their past four games.
The big story of the game for the 76ers is injuries. Jimmy Butler (groin) is listed as questionable after missing the past two games, both of which the Sixers have lost. Butler’s absence really exposes one of the biggest flaws this team has — its backup wing problem. Furkan Korkmaz has taken over the starting role with Butler out and while Korkmaz isn’t a bad player, he’s been a streaky one. You struggle to win basketball games when you replace a guy like Butler with more minutes from Korkmaz and Landry Shamet.
Theoretically, this Sixers team minus Butler is still better than the Cavaliers. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and JJ Redick are all arguably better than anyone currently starting for the Cavaliers, who find themselves in a bad place down their top two frontcourt guys, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton has shown an ability to fill the stat sheet, but he’s had some rough shooting performances as of late, and his defense is not optimal — his D-PIPM is currently the seventh-worst mark in the league, which has helped him to the worst overall PIPM in the NBA.
Cleveland allows the 11th-most points per game this year, but they’ve been surprisingly good at limiting opponents on the boards, with teams grabbing the sixth-fewest per game against them. But Tristan Thompson’s absence could have a big effect on how the 76ers are able to crash the glass, so that becomes a lesser concern than it was the last time the teams played, when Embiid was the only Sixers player to record more than five boards.
Again, this game should be a win for the Sixers, even if Butler misses, but stranger things have happened, like, ummm, losing to the Cavaliers already with Butler.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers @ Cleveland Cavaliers
When: 3:30pm EST
Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Sixers: Jimmy Butler (questionable, groin), Markelle Fultz (out, shoulder), Zhaire Smith (out, foot), Justin Patton (out, foot)
Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson (out, foot), Kevin Love (out, toe), JR Smith (out, personal)