The Philadelphia 76ers are now in their annual “playing without him for the foreseeable future” portion of the schedule. Star point guard Ben Simmons recently suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and is two weeks away from a re-evaluation (but not a return). The Sixers showed their blueprint for how to get by without Ben during Monday’s win over Atlanta: plenty of Joel Embiid dominating, consistent scoring from Tobias Harris, and just enough help from the supporting cast to keep things afloat against a weak second-half schedule.
Believe it or not, crazy NBA drama happens in places outside of Philadelphia too. We are about a week removed from the Cavaliers firing (technically, “parting ways” with) head coach John Beilein after just 54 games. The 67-year-old former Michigan coach never seemed like a good fit for this Cavaliers team. The roster has enough veterans left over from their title contention days to grumble about rebuilding type activities, and the young guys on the roster who recently became millionaires didn’t seem receptive to Beilein’s college-style methods. However, Beilein certainly didn’t help himself with things like the thugs/slugs incident back in January.
J.B. Bickerstaff has now been elevated to head coach, as strangely, the Cavaliers viewed him as part of an eventual succession plan. Why would you be thinking about a succession plan when you just signed a head coach to a five-year deal? I guess for the same reason Dan Gilbert used comic sans.
You know what I take away from this whole mess in Cleveland? It’s utterly remarkable that Brett Brown is still the Sixers head coach, surviving multiple front office changes, historically bad seasons, and countless cries of “Fire Brett Brown” from certain segments of the local media and fan base. Of course, if the Sixers don’t get their act together soon and make a strong postseason run, we might not be able to say that for much longer.
Cleveland sports the worst record in the Eastern Conference at 16-41, although they have won two of three since Bickerstaff assumed the reins, even beating Miami in overtime Monday night (Philadelphia thanks you, Cleveland). The Sixers are going for the season sweep tonight, having won by one at home in mid-November on an Embiid dunk with 13 seconds left, by 19 in Cleveland five days later (the Sixers’ largest margin of victory on the road this season), and by 47 (yes, FORTY-SEVEN) at home in early December.
The Cavaliers’ roster has changed a bit since these teams last met. Cleveland took Andre Drummond off Detroit’s hands in what was effectively a salary dump. Drummond is expected to decline his $28.75 million player option this summer, so it was curious for a lottery-bound team like Cleveland to take on what’s essentially an expiring contract, but it seems like they wanted to get a look at the former All-Star up-close in their system. However, he has played just 24.3 minutes per game across five contests with the Cavaliers. At least tonight’s game gives Joel Embiid a chance to visit his time share, because we all know he owns real estate in Drummond’s head.
Additionally, first-round pick Kevin Porter Jr. looks to be assuming a larger role for Cleveland. He scored 30 points Monday against Miami and Bickerstaff has said he will be given more offensive responsibility.
Even without Ben Simmons, you have to think tonight is a spot where the Sixers can snap their six-game losing streak on the road. Cleveland’s overall situation is in turmoil, and the on-court success (or lack thereof) has reflected that fact this season. The Sixers aren’t exactly the picture of stability, but they should still be able to assert their will over these Cavaliers, and maybe Joel Embiid will even be able to build an addition inside Drummond’s head.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
When: 7:00 pm ET
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Cleveland, OH
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Philadelphia: Ben Simmons (out - back); Norvel Pelle (doubtful - illness)
Cleveland: Dylan Windler (out - leg); Alfonzo McKinnie (out - foot); Dante Exum (out - ankle)