I hope everyone had a great Leap Day. Real life is for March! Unfortunately for the Sixers, it’s March now and real life doesn’t look so great at the moment. It’s hard to believe that just under three weeks ago, the Philadelphia 76ers came away with a 110-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. It was an encouraging win right before the All-Star break against a Clippers group that had both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George available. Sadly, things will be completely different this afternoon for the Sixers.
For starters, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were both available for that previous meeting, and Philadelphia’s star duo combined for 52 of the team’s 110 points in that game. With both players injured, the Sixers won their first game this season playing without both All-Stars on Thursday night, but the step-up from the Knicks to the 40-19 Clippers is like going from facing the Washington Generals to an opponent that won’t be cool with having their pants pulled down. Meanwhile, Los Angeles is fully healthy and 20-7 this season when both Kawhi and PG play.
Then, we have the simple fact that this afternoon’s game will not take place in Philadelphia, and, well, you’re reading a Sixers blog so I don’t have to go into too much detail about what happens to the Sixers away from home. The team is 9-21 on the road this season, having lost seven straight, and was last seen getting their butts kicked in by Cleveland (you heard me, Cleveland!). I’d make another strained metaphor about the difference between the Cavaliers and the Clippers, but I think you get the point. Los Angeles is not exactly in the middle of a rough patch either, winners of three straight games and having just smoked the Nuggets by 29 points on Friday night.
About the best hope for the Sixers is Tobias Harris showing out in a big way for a revenge game against his former club. Harris seized the mantle as the offensive focal point without Simmons and Embiid Thursday night, tallying 34 points and seven assists. Philadelphia will need a fair approximation of that performance from Tobi this afternoon to keep pace with a Clippers team that ranks sixth in the NBA in offensive rating (112.4).
Other things to watch include the continued emergence of Shake Milton, who has scored at least 17 points in the three of the past four games. Shake will likely have a top-level defender on him (be it Pat Beverley or Paul George, I’m assuming Kawhi will draw the Tobias assignment). Can the former SMU guard succeed when the opponent has it in the scouting report to worry about him?
Also, facing high-energy big man Montrezl Harrell, the Sixers will need some-energy Al Horford. Thursday was a great start for the newly re-installed starting center, as Al recorded 15 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists. I’m also looking forward to seeing Matisse Thybulle against the star wings of the Clippers. Ben Simmons drew the majority of the work against Kawhi a few weeks ago, so we’ll likely see some more Matisse on the Klaw, but really, the rook trying to lock down either Leonard or George should make for some entertaining viewing.
I can’t say I’m optimistic about today’s game. Maybe the weird start time (12:30 local) will lead to an ugly, disjointed affair upon which the Sixers could capitalize? Nothing about Philadelphia’s recent play on the road has been encouraging, even when Ben and Joel were available, but I suppose there’s no time like the present to start turning that trend around.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Los Angeles Clippers
When: 3:30 pm ET
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Philadelphia: Ben Simmons (out - back); Joel Embiid (out - shoulder)
Los Angeles: None