Philadelphia avoided a letdown game Friday night in Minneapolis, pulling away in the second half for an easy victory over the Timberwolves. In addition to helping maintain their first-place positioning in the Eastern Conference over the hard-charging Brooklyn Nets and their new Big 3, that performance was important for the Sixers in that they were able to rest Joel Embiid for the entire fourth quarter. That Timberwolves game had all the makings of a DNP-Load Management for the big man, but Embiid suited up, playing through visible back discomfort, and still dropped an incredible 37 points in just 27 minutes. Listed as questionable for tonight’s contest against the Pacers, maybe that fourth-quarter rest was the tipping point in enabling Joel to get back to work this evening.
As for tonight’s opponent, the Pacers have some injury woes themselves. T.J. Warren won’t be able to torch the Sixers tonight like he did in the Bubble, as he remains out following foot surgery. Indiana also made the interesting move to get insert themselves into the big James Harden trade, shipping Victor Oladipo and his expiring deal to Houston in order to acquire Caris LeVert with two more years left on his deal after this season.
Unfortunately, the physical conducted as part of the trade showed a cancerous mass on LeVert’s kidney. LeVert had to undergo surgery, which was deemed successful, but he remains out of the lineup potentially for the rest of the season. Indiana received an extra second-round pick (to another second-round pick that had already been included) and cash in the deal, as LeVert’s condition had not been previously known. Reserve forward Doug McDermott is also questionable for tonight after tweaking his back earlier this week.
Still, Indiana has more than enough talent available to give the Sixers trouble, particularly if Embiid sits (the Sixers remain winless without Joel this season). Coming off his first All-Star appearance, Domantas Sabonis has even slightly better numbers than a year ago, averaging 20.5 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. Crucially for the Pacers’ team-building, he and Myles Turner are coexisting much better, and the talks of splitting the frontcourt duo up have ceased. Turner is just off a career-high at 14.4 points per game, and is easily leading the league with an outstanding 4.1 blocks per game (Rudy Gobert is second way down at 2.7 bpg).
Point guard Malcolm Brogdon is enjoying his increased usage in the Hoosier state, and is averaging a career-high 22.7 points per game. Most importantly for the Pacers, Brogdon is staying healthy this year, appearing in every game thus far. Indiana also received a boost last week with the return of Jeremy Lamb following ACL surgery.
If Joel plays tonight, you would have to like the Sixers’ chances for victory, as the full starting lineup is currently 11-0 on the season. Even with Embiid playing his usual “why-you-hitting-yourself” bully ball on Myles Turner, though, it should still be a tough test against a mid-tier playoff team in the East. And if Joel sits and we’re left with extended minutes watching Dwight Howard look incredulously at the refs after a foul call, it could be a long wait until Wednesday’s game in Charlotte.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Indiana Pacers
When: 7:00pm ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Philadelphia: Joel Embiid - questionable (back); Mike Scott - out (knee); Vincent Poirier - out (medical protocols); Terrance Ferguson - out (medical protocols)
Indiana: T.J. Warren - out (foot); Caris LeVert - out (kidney); Doug McDermott - questionable (back)