The Philadelphia 76ers will put their perfect 9-0 home record to the test tonight against the 12-8 Utah Jazz. The Sixers lost 106-104 in Utah in early November, but there are some reasons to believe things will go differently this time around, and not just due to the change in venue.
For starters, Ben Simmons left that first game after just 10 minutes of playing time following a shoulder injury. As we’ve seen in key moments the last two games, Simmons can be a game-changer on the defensive end. All eyes will be on him on those occasions when Ben is lined up opposite Donovan Mitchell, hoping to shut down the former Rookie of the Year runner-up and give him a lesson on how basic definitions work.
Another point in the Sixers’ favor is that they are catching Utah on the second night of a back-to-back. The Jazz were mauled by the Raptors in Toronto yesterday, 130-110. If any silver lining exists for the Jazz from that defeat, it’s that no player logged more than 31 minutes. Still, tired legs should still apply, in addition to all the limiting factors associated with travel. The only potential downside for Philadelphia is the likely absence of Josh Richardson, who is doubtful with his hamstring injury.
When the Jazz have the ball, Philadelphia will need to defend without fouling. Utah ranks third in the NBA in FTA rate (.300), which could present a problem for a Sixers club that rates as the 5th-worst team in opposing FTA rate (.308). The Jazz are a bottom-10 team offensively; ensuring they aren’t able to accrue easy points at the foul line would go a long way towards a Sixers victory. In particular, if Matisse Thybulle is given a crack at defending Mitchell, this could be something to monitor.
On the other end of the floor, the Jazz have not been quite the same defensive force of years past, sitting a respectable, but not dominant 11th in the league with a 104.3 defensive rating. The key matchup to watch will be Rudy Gobert defending Joel Embiid. There are not many players in the league that match Joel in stature, but these two guys going at it is like viewing a trailer for Pacific Rim. In the first meeting this season, Gobert guarded Embiid for 9:28 of gametime. Embiid scored 15 of his 27 points against Gobert, going just 3-of-10 from the field, but also drawing three shooting fouls and earning 10 free throws altogether.
We’ll have two of the best centers in the league going at it and boos raining down for Donovan Mitchell in what I imagine will be a rowdy Wells Fargo Center. Tonight should be fun. Follow along starting at 7:00pm.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Utah Jazz
When: 7:00 pm ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia; NBA TV
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Philadelphia: Josh Richardson (doubtful - hamstring)
All stats courtesy of stats.NBA.com.