Two nights after defeating the worst team in the Western Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers will try and complete the futility double and emerge victorious against the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the 12-36 Atlanta Hawks. Of course, the major difference is that the Sixers will be on the road for tonight’s contest, a situation that has not been kind to them this season, to say the least. However, maybe the two wins in New York a couple weeks ago were a sign of better things to come.
An even bigger factor to the Sixers’ chances is the putrid defense Atlanta has been playing lately. Across their last three games, the Hawks have allowed 140 points to the Thunder, 133 to the Wizards (they scored 152 and won, but still), and 130 points to the Raptors. For context, the Sixers haven’t allowed 130 points in a game this entire season. Although the Hawks play at the 5th-highest pace in the league, it’s not simply a case of more possessions; their defensive rating of 113.4 sits third-worst in the NBA. Atlanta has the worst opposition free throw attempt rate and opposing offensive rebounding percentage of any team. All of which is to say that Joel Embiid ought to wreck havoc on the interior.
Although one of the primary reasons the Hawks’ defense is so bad is the sieve at the point of attack known as Trae Young, the Atlanta point guard was named an All-Star starter because of what he can do on the offensive end of the court. Young is averaging 29.2 points and 9.0 assists per game, shooting 37.1 percent from 3 on 9.3 attempts per game, many of which come from distances that would have been unthinkable even five years ago. In Philadelphia’s 105-103 win in Atlanta back in October, the Sixers held Trae to 25 points on 7-of-20 shooting, but his game-winner over the Sixers in an efficient 32-point effort last season is surely etched in Philadelphia fans’ minds.
The difference from the earlier meeting this season is the absence of Josh Richardson, who draws the primary assignment against smaller guards like Young. It will be up to Matisse Thybulle, Ben Simmons and others to step up and make sure Trae doesn’t do enough damage on the offensive end to counteract the Hawks’ poor defense.
Aside from Richardson, the Sixers have other potential injury issues with Al Horford and Mike Scott both questionable with knee soreness. The Hawks have their own concerns in the frontcourt, though, as Jabari Parker and Alex Len are both out, and Bruno Fernando is doubtful with a strained calf. As good as he is as a player, Collins is already undersized as a five, making guarding Embiid a difficult task. I’d expect to see a little more Damian Jones from Atlanta.
The Sixers can’t afford to look ahead or have a letdown game tonight. Although they have been playing well lately, so have most of the teams ahead of them in the standings. The Raptors have won eight straight games and have a 2.5-game lead over Philadelphia for the two-seed in the East (with the Heat, Celtics, and Pacers all in-between). With tremendously tough road games in Boston, Miami, and Milwaukee to follow, tonight has to be a win. Get it done.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Atlanta Hawks
When: 7:30 pm ET
Where: State Farm Arena, Atlanta, GA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Philadelphia: Josh Richardson (out - hamstring); Al Horford (questionable - knee); Mike Scott (questionable - knee)
Atlanta: Jabari Parker (out - shoulder); DeAndre’ Bembry (doubtful - hand); Alex Len (out - hip); Bruno Fernando (doubtful - calf)