After over four months waiting, Friday’s return of Philadelphia 76ers basketball provided everything fans could have hoped to see and more. Led by the new-look starting lineup, the Sixers built a huge lead over Memphis that eventually ballooned to as many as 29 points. Ben Simmons looked terrific in his adjusted role, firing a pair of catch-and-shoot 3s from the corners (making one), while still tallying nine assists against just one turnover. Tobias Harris recorded a double-double in just 22 minutes, and Joel Embiid was spry enough to jump over the barrier in front of the bench area after Norvel Pelle hit a 3.
If you felt wildly optimistic following that win, just know that it wasn’t due solely to the hopeful exuberance of rooting for the hometown team. The Sixers caught everyone’s eye:
dont care if it’s just a scrimmage Sixers fans you have a 24-hour pass to tweet any and all regrettable feelings. this team looks like a god damn wrecking ball.— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) July 24, 2020
Still, much has been made about how the Grizzlies were a great matchup for the Sixers, and this afternoon’s opponent certainly represents a step up in competition. When the regular season was suspended, the Oklahoma City Thunder sat in fifth place in the Western Conference. With eight seeding games to come, the Thunder could realistically move anywhere from third to seventh. Featuring strong veteran leadership and a healthy roster, OKC is one of the teams the top contenders will hope to avoid on their side of the playoff bracket.
Oklahoma City got off to a strong start in Orlando, easily dispatching the Boston Celtics on Friday, 98-84. Without in-arena crowd noise, you’ll hear plenty of Chris Paul directing traffic throughout the game. Paul, rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and third guard Dennis Schroder represent a nice contrast in styles up against the supersized Sixers lineup. Back in normal times pre-COVID suspension, these two teams each won their respective game at home, the contest in Oklahoma City needing overtime to resolve.
Former Sixer Nerlens Noel is expected to play after resting an ankle injury rather than taking the floor against the Celtics. After sitting out 909 days due to knee surgery and subsequent complications, Andre Roberson made his long-awaited return to action Friday; he is also expected to be available this afternoon. Reserve guard Abdel Nader is out after suffering a concussion Friday.
For the Sixers, all the same storylines and stakes as Friday still apply. Shake and the starters need to continue to gel, we’ll hopefully see an encore from Ben in the willing-to-shoot department, and Brett will be looking for who steps up in the back-end of the rotation. The only difference is that the game will now revert back to the normal 48 minutes of action.
Sixers basketball. Again! I could get used to this.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Where: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, FL (The Bubble)
When: 12:00pm ET
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA TV