For the second time this week, the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers will face off against each other, with the action now shifting to the Buckeye State. Tuesday night in Philadelphia, the Sixers prevailed in a last-second 98-97 victory, a game I would charitably call uneven, and realistically dub ugly.
The main hope for a better Philadelphia performance this time around resides in the Sixers having the full starting lineup available; Al Horford sat out the first meeting for load management purposes. However, the change in venue merits a cause for concern, as the Sixers have been less than exemplary on the road this season, most recently losing in overtime in Oklahoma City Friday night despite having all starters available.
Since these two teams last tangled, the Cavaliers lost a home match to Miami on Thursday night, 108-97. Kevin Love led Cleveland in that contest, recording 21 points and 10 rebounds. After an injury-riddled 2018-19 season, Love is finally having a chance to flex his muscles as the main man in Cleveland under new head coach John Beilein. Love’s 18.7 points per game are his most in three seasons, and his 12.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game are his highest marks since his halcyon Minnesota days.
With both Horford and Joel Embiid now suiting up against Love and Tristan Thompson, though, I feel like Cleveland is one of the handful of opponents where the two-big pairing makes a lot of sense strategically for the Sixers. Replacing Furkan Korkmaz with Horford in the starting lineup immediately upgrades the defense in a significant way. We’ll see if the Love-Thompson duo is held below their 37-point output from Tuesday night. (Brief aside: Tristan Thompson has to be the best test case for Ben Simmons to start shooting 3s, right? A big man who famously switched shooting hands mid-career — the blueprint is there!)
Elsewhere, don’t let Jordan Clarkson go off for a season-high 20 points seems like sound advice. Plus, there were some positives for the Sixers Friday night. Tobias Harris finally ended his cold spell from the perimeter, shooting 3-of-4 from 3. The Sixers badly need his ability to stretch the floor, especially with new sixth man Korkmaz cooling off the last few games. Josh Richardson recorded his Sixers-high 28 points, and his now up to 16.4 points per game on 47.1 percent shooting in the month of November.
I’m all for load management and keeping your eye on the prize of May and June basketball. However, a team also needs to position itself to succeed once postseason play rolls around, which means a good seed, which means a strong regular season record. It has to be no back-to-back, no excuses for the Sixers this afternoon. They can’t let another winnable road game slip through their fingers. Watch at 3:00pm to see whether their play in Cleveland rocks.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
When: 3:00 pm ET
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Cleveland, OH
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia - Plus
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Philadelphia: No injuries (finds rare sandalwood to knock on)
Cleveland: Larry Nance (doubtful - thumb); John Henson (out - hamstring); Ante Zizic (probable - ankle); Dylan Windler (out - leg)