With Ben Simmons out for the season and Joel Embiid receiving treatment on his injured ankle, the Sixers look increasingly locked into the 6-seed in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia trails Indiana by just a half-game in the standings, but with the Pacers owning the tiebreaker, and the difference between starting the playoffs as either the 5- or 6-seed being a matter of personal opinion anyway, the Sixers have placed what was the entire original opening-night starting lineup on today’s injury report.
Aside from Ben and Joel, Josh Richardson is listed as out for rest, and Tobias Harris and Al Horford are both listed as questionable with ankle and knee soreness, respectively. On the surface, you can view the abdication of today’s game as resting up for the playoffs, and that’s certainly valid. But more cynically, it can be viewed as the Sixers going serve-for-serve with Oklahoma City in tanking for the Thunder’s top-20-protected first-round pick.
At 43-27, Oklahoma City’s pick currently sits at 22nd overall. The Sixers are one game behind the Thunder and sitting in the 19th spot, with Utah and Indiana sitting a half-game in-between at the 20th and 21st slots. Clearly, a single win or loss could end up meaning the difference in the pick conveying or not. The Thunder fired the opening shot in this tank war yesterday by sitting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven Adams, and Danilo Gallinari against Phoenix. Andre Roberson and Nerlens Noel had already been sitting out with minor injuries, and Dennis Schroder is outside the Bubble for personal reasons, so it was no surprise when the Thunder were blown out by 27 points by the Suns. The Sixers are going to have to go back to their roots and get down and dirty in the trenches to win this tanking war.
Speaking of the Suns, they’ve become the full-good story of the NBA Bubble. Phoenix has gone 6-0 in Orlando, the only NBA team to remain undefeated since the restart. Suddenly, Monty Williams’ club finds itself right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff run, sitting a half-game back of Portland for the 9-seed and one game back of Memphis for the 8-seed. With their only remaining games coming against a Sixers team with arguably their five top players on the injury report, and a Mavericks club that will likely be locked into the 7-seed with nothing to play for in the season finale, there’s a real path for the Suns to go 8-0 and find themselves in the play-in games to get that eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
The Suns deserve to make the playoffs the way they have been playing of late. Devin Booker is on fire, scoring 30 points or more in four of his last five games, and shooting at least 50 percent from the field in all five. Aside from missing his mandatory coronavirus test Sunday, Deandre Ayton has been solid in Bubble action, while Mikal Bridges is making Sixers fans more rueful by the day that Philadelphia only retained his rights for about 23 minutes.
I’m not sure why exactly to tell you to tune in today. Undoubtedly, Matisse Thybulle will do something fun and winsome. Maybe Shake has a throwback game to the spring and goes shot-for-shot with Booker for a stretch. Norvel Pelle could have one of his sequences where he gets three blocks on one possession. Regardless, it’s the afternoon and you’re possibly working from home or self-quarantining or just plain looking for something to do during the summer in the year from hell. Sixers basketball is on and you’ll be watching.
Philadelphia: Ben Simmons - out (knee); Joel Embiid - out (ankle); Josh Richardson - out (rest); Tobias Harris - questionable (ankle); Al Horford - questionable (knee); Zhaire Smith - out (knee)
Phoenix: Kelly Oubre - out (knee); Aron Baynes - out (knee); Elie Okobo - out (ankle)
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Phoenix Suns
Where: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, FL (The Bubble)
When: 4:30pm ET
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic