Two days removed from one of Joel Embiid’s best NBA performances, the Sixers will likely need a similar effort from the big man as they take on his All-Star teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in a nationally-televised game in Milwaukee. Entering the season, these two clubs were seen as the co-favorites in the Eastern Conference. While the Sixers have been one of the most confusing teams in the league, with the home/road split receipts to prove it, the Bucks have marched right along in a dominant campaign that has analysts wondering if they’ll be the third team in NBA history to reach 70 wins.
These teams have already met twice this season, with the Sixers securing a highly encouraging 121-109 Christmas Day win, only to later lose 112-101 in Milwaukee earlier this month. Philadelphia is much too far removed in the standings to worry about this game in terms of any sort of tiebreaker situation in the season series with Milwaukee, but a win would go a long way towards proving the team should, in fact, continue to be considered among the handful of the league’s true contenders. Also, every game takes on added importance as the regular season winds down; the Sixers enter the day just a half-game back of Miami for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
After missing Thursday night’s overtime win over Brooklyn due to lower back tightness, Ben Simmons has been upgraded to probable for tonight’s game. Expect Simmons to be given the defensive assignment on the Bucks’ other All-Star, Khris Middleton, but also to assume a fair share of possessions trying to slow down Giannis.
Of course, we are often reminded that the Sixers assembled this roster in large part to combat the Bucks. A big part of that line of thinking surrounded bringing in Al Horford, who had done a credible job defending Giannis in past playoff series. Having Embiid, Simmons, and Horford all to throw at the Bucks superstar is certainly more options than perhaps any other NBA team can sport.
However, Horford did not look the part of a stopper in the last meeting between these teams, and it’s fair to say we have reached the nadir in terms of Sixers fans’ confidence in the former Celtic. Tonight will mark the third game with Big Al coming off the bench, and more troubling, he was a minus-26 in 19 minutes against Brooklyn. The Sixers need the Horford-as-sixth-man situation to register as having the best second option at center in the league, not for everything to fall apart when Joel hits the bench. We’ve seen that movie in the past and it does not end well for the club in red, white, and blue.
Ultimately, I’m not going to be up-in-arms if the Sixers don’t emerge victorious tonight. After all, they are 9-19 on the road, while the Bucks are nearly as good at home as the Sixers themselves at 25-3. Just show me an effort that proves this team belongs in the same conversation with Milwaukee. I want Embiid giving his all on both ends like we saw Thursday night against the Nets. Let’s see Joel and Ben continue to work those snug pick-and-rolls and expand their on-court relationship together with the additional spacing provided to them within the new starting unit. Give me the Al Horford of old with the second unit, helping to keep things afloat to preserve a fresh Embiid for crunch time. If those things happen, I think we might just be pleasantly surprised with the outcome on the scoreboard anyway.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks
When: 8:30 pm ET
Where: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Philadelphia: Ben Simmons (probable - back)
Milwaukee: Kyle Korver (out - back)