After having a few days off due to Sunday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder being postponed, the Philadelphia 76ers, coming off a 106-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, are back at home for a two-game mini series against the Boston Celtics.
In their first matchup of the season against Boston, the Sixers will be the closest they’ve been to full strength in some time. The only players on the latest injury report are Vincent Poirier (healthy and safety protocols) and Mike Scott (right knee swelling), which means Furkan Korkmaz and Seth Curry have been cleared to play, with the latter now active after testing positive for COVID-19 on January 7.
One element of the Sixers’ rotation to keep an eye on is how many minutes Doc Rivers assigns to Matisse Thybulle and Korkmaz. Rivers had been favoring the latter to start the season for added spot-up and off-movement shooting, but the team’s recent wave of absences gave Thybulle a chance to be a regular part of the rotation.
Meanwhile, Curry will give the team an immediate lift if he plays. His elite shooting has been incredibly valuable and he’s been helping as a secondary ball-handler and pick-and-roll player, averaging career-highs in points (17) and assists (3.6) per game with a 59.5-percent stroke from three.
For the Celtics, Jayson Tatum will be out due to health and safety protocols. This clearly makes life easier for the Sixers, and should see Ben Simmons shift to the task of guarding Jaylen Brown instead. Brown has been having an excellent season so far, continuing to improve as a creator and more diverse shooter with career-high averages of 25.8 points (with a 62.5 True Shooting Percentage), 3.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
Besides Brown taking another step forward, the Celtics also look a little different after a few offseason changes. They’ve made some backcourt additions with guys like Jeff Teague and rookie Payton Pritchard (who’s given them some good minutes so far), while signing Tristan Thompson in free agency for some extra frontcourt depth and rebounding.
The Celtics, coming off an ugly 105-75 loss to the New York Knicks, are sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference with a 8-4 record (a couple of their games have been postponed), ranking 12th in offensive rating and 14th in defensive rating. Kemba Walker has just returned after missing their first 11 games with a knee injury and will provide a welcome boost of shot creation and playmaking as he returns to form, but their offense still won’t be the same for Wednesday’s game without Tatum. How the Sixers’ guards — from Curry in the starting lineup, to guys like Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey off the bench — fare when covering Walker will be important matchups to follow. Milton has improved all around this season and that includes his defense, while Maxey has had plenty of impressive moments for a rookie with his motor, physicality and quickness.
The Celtics have some defensive issues, particularly when it comes to protecting the paint. They’re allowing the 5th-highest shooting percentage in the restricted area at 68.3 percent, and only rank 20th in defensive rebound percentage. This should be a good matchup for Joel Embiid to take control inside and operate against smaller big men like Thompson, Daniel Theis and Robert Williams.
With the Celtics undermanned on the perimeter as well without Tatum’s defense, the Sixers will need Ben Simmons to try and take advantage with a more aggressive approach attacking the rim. His field goal attempts and free throw attempts are down from last season, and he’s often passed out of drives rather than looking to fight through contact or score himself.
With Curry available, Milton continuing to thrive (he’s averaged 29.5 points and 5.5 assists through two brilliant games since returning from his contact-tracing absence), no Tatum for Boston, and an opportunity for Embiid to dominate against the Celtics’ frontcourt, the Sixers should have a good chance to bounce back with a win.
Who: Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers
When: 7:00pm ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, ESPN
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic