The Sixers will complete a quick two-game road trip tonight as they take the floor in Oklahoma City to face the Thunder for a nationally televised showdown. After barely holding on for a one-point win against the dysfunctional Pelicans, Philadelphia should face much stiffer competition against a Thunder squad currently sitting third in the Western Conference and hungry for a win coming off two straight defeats to Sacramento and Denver. When these two squads met in Philadelphia last month, Oklahoma City won by two points thanks to a Paul George 4-point play with 5.1 seconds remaining.
Of course, it hasn’t been just the Sixers that have found themselves on the receiving end of a George dagger. Last Friday, he dropped in a floater with less than two seconds remaining in double overtime to give the Thunder a 148-147 victory over the Jazz. George has firmly established himself as the leader of the second tier in the MVP conversation, just behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden. He has been particularly ridiculous lately, averaging 35.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 2.1 steals in the month of February.
Sadly, given the current circumstances, it may not even be George that gives Philadelphia the most problems. Both Joel Embiid and Boban Marjanovic are out for this contest with knee issues. As a result, the Sixers will be relying on some combination of Jonah Bolden staying out of foul trouble, a sprinkling of small ball, and a potential desperation move to Justin Patton, who was just recalled from the Delaware Blue Coats and can count on one hand his number of career NBA minutes (four). It’s a recipe for disaster when lined toe-to-toe with a formidable Thunder frontcourt featuring the toughest man in the NBA, Steven Adams, and hot dog lover Nerlens Noel.
To pull off the upset (Oklahoma City is an 8-point favorite), the Sixers will need the rest of their star-studded starting lineup to step up. Ben Simmons has been much more aggressive without Embiid post-All Star break, averaging 21.3 points across the three games. Tobias Harris is coming off a Sixers-best 29 points against New Orleans. Jimmy Butler has become the team’s de facto backup point guard and main ball handler in crunch time; he should also receive the bulk of the Paul George defensive assignment.
While we unfortunately won’t be witness to the next chapter in the Joel Embiid-Russell Westbrook rivalry, we should be in store for some exciting NBA action. Come back tonight and follow along with us.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
When: 8:00 pm EST
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Philadelphia: Joel Embiid - knee (out); Boban Marjanovic - knee (out); Furkan Korkmaz - knee (out); Shake Milton - finger (out)
Oklahoma City: Andre Roberson - knee (out)