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Game Preview: 76ers at Hawks

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Sixers Closing in on the Eastern Conference’s Three Seed

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The final road trip of the 2017-18 regular season is here and as expected, the Sixers enter Atlanta with control of the three seed in the Eastern Conference. Two games remain before the playoffs begin and Philadelphia will likely need to win both of them to stay ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Tuesday’s game will mark the third meeting between the 76ers and the Hawks this season. Brett Brown’s team won each of the first two games by ten points with dominant performances by Ben Simmons. The rookie finished both games with a team-high in plus/minus while averaging 16 points, 12.5 rebounds and 10 assists per game.

In November, the Sixers finished with a season-high 36 team assists against Atlanta. It was the franchise’s highest total since 2013 and set the tone for how the team would continue to play this season. In the second game against the Hawks – which was the team’s ninth win in the current win streak – the 76ers built a 27-point lead that the reserves barely held on to in Atlanta.

Over the course of this 14-game winning streak, Philadelphia has looked like a completely different team that actually knows how to take care of the basketball. In the team’s first 66 games, the Sixers averaged 25.9 assists and 16.5 turnovers per game. Since the winning streak started on March 15th, the team is averaging 32.1 assists and just 13 turnovers per game.

Ben Simmons remains questionable for tonight’s game due to an illness, which could put a damper on the whole assist-to-turnover ratio. However, if Simmons is unable to go, the encouraging play of another rookie point guard may still be plenty to walk away from Atlanta with another victory.

On Tuesday morning, Brown said that Markelle Fultz would probably get the start in the absence of the Rookie of the Year frontrunner. Since his return, Fultz has been good enough at taking care of the ball but this would be his first extended run with having full control of the offense. In the last eight games, Fultz has played 16.6 minutes and is averaging 4.1 assists to just a single turnover per game. The Sixers offense should continue to space the floor with their shooters while letting Fultz be in charge of driving to the goal and finding the open teammate.

UPDATE: Keith Pompey of the Philly Inquirer tweeted that Brett Brown expects Ben Simmons to play tonight.

Speaking of shooters, the Sixers have seen a clear dip in their efficiency from deep since Joel Embiid got hurt. Timely 3-pointers have helped keep the winning streak alive but as a whole, defenses have been able to stay stretched without the post offense that Embiid provides.

In the last seven games, Philadelphia is shooting 34.4 percent from beyond the arc, which is actually slightly worse than its opponents’ 34.5 percent. The Sixers shot 21.1 percent in the last game against Atlanta, which included a 2-for-9 performance by Robert Covington and a 1-for-8 performance by Marco Belinelli. You may see Atlanta’s defense focus on the perimeter more, especially if Simmons is out.

The Sixers have already reached the 50-win goal but at this point, it might be a disappointment to not hold on to the three seed. A 16-game winning streak entering the playoffs may seem like too much to ask for but with the team’s current form, it seems probable.

Game Info:

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Place: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia

Watch: NBCSP

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Twitter: @Liberty_Ballers

Vegas: -9/5 Sixers, O/U 220