Fresh off three straight losses, the Philadelphia 76ers head to Indiana tonight for their first of six straight games on the road. Although the Sixers dropped Thursday night’s game to Toronto, the positive news was the return of both Tobias Harris (COVID-19 protocols) and Seth Curry (left foot injury) to the lineup. Harris’ return was particularly heartening with the veteran playing 37 minutes and generally looking like himself, after a COVID illness that had made it difficult for him to get out of bed for days. Hopefully, Tobias’ symptoms are completely a thing of the past, although we’ve heard instances of players still not feeling like themselves well after their return to the court (including Seth Curry last year), so that’s unfortunately no guarantee.
Joel Embiid is still out due to Health and Safety Protocols, as are Matisse Thybulle and Isaiah Joe. We’re fresh off the latest release from Ben Simmons’ camp in their ongoing public relations war with the Sixers organization, so any earlier speculation that this long road trip might be an ideal opportunity for Ben to return to action was simply idle conjecture.
With the big names out recently, it has been second-year guard Tyrese Maxey who has stepped up in a big way. Across his past five games, Maxey is averaging 22.0 points (on .518/.435/.933 splits), 5.0 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.0 block, and amazingly, only 0.8 turnovers. The rising star just became the youngest player in Sixers franchise history to record back-to-back 30-point games, passing a guy you may have heard of by the name of Allen Iverson. Always and forever, thank you, Mike Muscala.
As for the Pacers, they’ve been sputtering at bit out of the gates this season, sitting at just 5-8 and 12th in the Eastern Conference. Indiana is coming off its best win of the year, though, a 111-100 win over the Jazz in Utah Thursday evening. As of yesterday, the Pacers had the fun statistical profile of sporting the 10th-best offensive rating in the league and the 10th-worst defensive rating, good for a 0.0 net rating.
Caris LeVert has played five games since his return from a fractured back, and while he has averaged 17.2 points per game, his shot is still rounding into form (.389/.214/.625 splits). Malcolm Brogdon currently leads Indiana in scoring at 23.6 points per game; as usual, injuries are an issue for Brogdon who has missed five games already this season. He’s healthy at the moment, however, and coming off a season-high 30 points in the win over Utah. Myles Turner is shooting a spectacular 44.4 percent on 3s this season and averaging 3.2 blocks per game, continuing his growth as 3-and-D big man. Domantas Sabonis’ scoring is basically in line with, albeit slight under, his past two All-Star seasons (18.3 ppg), but his assists have dropped significantly (3.8 apg from 6.7 last season). I’ll be curious to see if that’s small sample size or if Sabonis is playing less of an offensive hub role this year. Finally, Mr. Durable T.J. McConnell has appeared in all 13 games for the Pacers, with his usual 55.7 percent shooting from the field and 5.4 assists per game. So help me if the Sixers are lazy with a pass in the backcourt while T.J. is lurking.
The Sixers are in the midst of a slide, certainly understandable given how decimated the roster was over the course of the last week or so. Long road trips are always tough, and Philadelphia has the Jazz, Nuggets, and Warriors all on the upcoming docket. Even though Embiid is out, the Sixers have their other four starters on hand and tonight is a decent enough opportunity to steal a road win. (I’m not referring to Simmons being out as missing a starter anymore. Sorry, not sorry. Tyrese has earned it.) They’ll absolutely need a better effort than what they showed Thursday night against the Raptors, however. Let’s see if they can get it done.