Remember how excited we were for the return of Sixers basketball? Oh, how young and naive we were. While the worst case scenario of a major injury didn’t transpire, it’s safe to say the heart of every optimistic Sixers fan was injured in Saturday night’s excruciating loss to the Indiana Pacers. But you can’t pronounce the word fanatic without the word addict, and we’re back for another hit of potential heartbreak tonight when Philadelphia takes on the San Antonio Spurs.
People had essentially written off the Spurs as an afterthought within the bubble. San Antonio is in the midst of a record-tying 22-year playoff streak, but the Spurs had the second-worst record among Western Conference teams invited to the bubble. With seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge sidelined after undergoing shoulder surgery in June, people basically assumed that streak was coming to an end. Even Gregg Popovich said two weeks ago that his main goal was elsewhere (courtesy of NBC Sports):
“Each team has a goal here. Some teams are confident they’re a step away from winning an NBA championship. Other teams just want to be in the playoffs. Some teams are concerned mainly with development. If we play well enough to get into the playoffs, that would be great. But my goal is development right now.”
However, the Spurs have opened the restart period with wins over Sacramento and Memphis. Suddenly, they find themselves in sole possession of ninth place in the West, just two games back of the Grizzlies. While veteran DeMar DeRozan remains a consistent contributor, San Antonio is succeeding in large part due to expanded roles for their young backcourt. Third-year guard Derrick White went off for 26 points, eight rebounds, and five assists against the Kings, and then fellow third-year guard Dejounte Murray led the team in scoring with 21 points and 10 rebounds against Memphis. Popovich has also inserted second-year player Lonnie Walker into the starting lineup, basically starting four guards in order to serve the youth movement.
One of the few positive takeaways for the Sixers on Saturday was the play of Joel Embiid, who exploded for 41 points and 21 rebounds. He should find similar success against San Antonio, who is depleted in the frontcourt with Aldridge out in addition to fellow starter Trey Lyles. Jakob Poeltl has been starting at center for the Spurs, and he can be very foul-prone; Poeltl fouled out in just 20 minutes yesterday against Memphis.
So that’s one positive for the Sixers, as is the fact that they’re catching San Antonio on the tail end of a back-to-back — a rarity in bubble play. You would also expect the various Sixers ball handlers to remember how to throw a simple pass, something that eluded them to a great extent two nights ago. Throw in the possibility of more than four combined points from Philadelphia’s starting backcourt and one fewer expletive-laden flare-up between starters on the sideline and you have to feel better about the Sixers’ chances this evening.
The real reason Sixers fans should feel confident about a victory tonight, though: it’s nominally a Sixers home game.
Philadelphia: Mike Scott - out (knee); Zhaire Smith - out (knee); Glenn Robinson III - doubtful (hip pointer)
San Antonio: LaMarcus Aldridge - out (shoulder surgery); Trey Lyles - out (appendicitis); Bryn Forbes - questionable (quad tightness); Marco Belinelli - questionable (ankle)
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. San Antonio Spurs
Where: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, FL (The Bubble)
When: 8:00pm ET
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic