The NBA’s All-Star break comes to an end tonight, and as much fun as fans had watching Zion break a basket, guys hoist shots from the Mountain Dew Zone, Aaron Gordon jump over 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall, and the Elam Ending transform the All-Star game into the most competitive pick-up game of the century, it’ll be good to have regular NBA basketball back in our lives. The Philadelphia 76ers currently sit 1.5 games back of the Miami Heat for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. With just 27 games remaining before the crucible of the NBA postseason, the Sixers can’t afford any slip-ups, starting tonight against the Brooklyn Nets at home, where Philadelphia enters play a remarkable 25-2 on the season.
Prior to the break, Brett Brown finally played his last Wild Draw Four card, sending Al Horford to the bench for the first time in close to a decade in order to help unclog the spacing concerns inherent with a Horford/Joel Embiid/Ben Simmons lineup. The early concerns were encouraging, as that trio logged fewer minutes together and looked more comfortable in their new roles in the Sixers’ 110-103 victory over the Clippers. Horford told reporters yesterday that he believes he will continue coming off the bench for the foreseeable future, so Philadelphia fans can shift their argument to who should be the fifth starter replacing him: Furkan Korkmaz, Glenn Robinson III, Matisse Thybulle, etc.
Sixers fans also received some positive news on the injury front yesterday (imagine that!), as Joel Embiid will no longer be wearing the splint on his left hand he was sporting following his surgery to repair a torn ligament. The splint definitely seemed to bother Joel’s shooting to a certain extent, particularly at the free throw line, where he shot just 57-of-81 (70.4 percent) while wearing it.
Conversely, Philadelphia’s Thursday night opponent recently received some discouraging injury news. New VP of the Players’ Union Kyrie Irving has been ruled out after reaggravating his right shoulder injury; he is expected to see another specialist before formulating a timetable for his return. Kyrie’s absence means more work for Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. In particular, LeVert has shined recently, perhaps finally comfortable after missing close to two months with a thumb injury earlier this season. He has averaged 21 points and 4.5 assists across six February games, shooting 13-of-26 (50 percent) from 3. I would expect Simmons to start on LeVert, with Josh Richardson drawing the initial Dinwiddie assignment.
In what seems to be at least a once-per-week occurrence in 2020, tonight’s game will be broadcast on TNT. Remember when we wanted the Sixers to get more national TV exposure? Now I feel like I’m constantly watching games and wishing Marc and Alaa were on the call. Hopefully, the ‘are the Sixers too soft?’ and can ‘Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons play together?’ discussions are kept to a minimum, and Philadelphia starts the second half with a win over Brooklyn.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets
When: 8:00 pm ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Brooklyn: Kyrie Irving (out - shoulder); Kevin Durant (out - achilles)