The Philadelphia 76ers followed up one of their best wins of the season, a 102-93 win over Golden State, with one of their worst performances, a 126-91 loss in Memphis Monday night. That Jekyll and Hyde nature has been a theme throughout this Sixers season, with Doc Rivers’ club currently sitting just above .500 at 15-13, good enough for 6th place in the Eastern Conference as of this writing. Tonight, they’ll face the team right above them in the standings, the 16-12 Miami Heat.
Miami is coming off a 105-94 loss in Cleveland on Monday, and like seemingly every team at this time of year, has their own set of injury woes. Bam Adebayo is out 4-to-6 weeks after undergoing thumb surgery. Former Sixer (for 11 games) Dewayne Dedmon has been filling in as a starter, but while Dedmon is a very capable backup big man, he’s obviously not nearly the mobile defender or offensive playmaker that Adebayo, an All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, is. Additionally, Jimmy Butler and Markieff Morris are not traveling with the team on their current road trip, due to tailbone and neck injuries, respectively. At least Sixers fans won’t have to see an on-court reminder on this night of what could have been if the front office had chosen keeping Butler over appeasing Ben Simmons. And because it wouldn’t be 2021 without mentioning COVID protocols, Caleb Martin is currently out for that reason.
So who is left for Miami? Well, Philly native Kyle Lowry has been as advertised since coming over from Toronto in the offseason. The Cardinal Dougherty grad and former Villanova Wildcat is averaging 8.0 assists per game, and while his outside shooting is down (33.5 percent on threes), he’s shooting a career-high 57.5 percent on two-pointers, leaving his eFG% above his nine-year average in Toronto (.533 compared to .521). Then, they have Tyler Herro, who vacillates between looking like a solid role player and a star, leaving him at a career-high 20.3 points per game. However, Herro popped up yesterday on the injury report for his quadriceps and is now questionable. Lately, veteran P.J. Tucker has stepped into a more prominent role, averaging 15.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists over his last three games. His 23 points were one off a career-high set back in 2016 with Houston.
The Sixers were without Joel Embiid and Seth Curry in Monday’s loss and both are currently listed as day-to-day. Embiid was a late scratch in Memphis due to right rib soreness, an injury he suffered last Thursday against the Jazz. Joel would play reasonably well on Saturday against Golden State and what had originally been termed an abdominal injury wasn’t a big topic, so the missed game Monday was certainly a surprise. Curry’s shoulder injury was one that came out of nowhere. Maybe the soreness was a factor in his 0-of-3 night from downtown in his duel against his brother Saturday.
Undeniably, the status of those two will go a long way towards determining the Sixers’ success tonight. The team has not been nearly sharp enough to simply shake off the absence of their gravitational hub on both ends of the floor and their fourth-leading scorer. If Joel does sit, one would expect Tyrese Maxey to have another big offensive showing. Maxey was one of the very few bright spots in Memphis, scoring 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting and tallying seven assists. Getting Maxey and Embiid to more seamlessly coexist and have Tyrese approach his peak even with Joel in the lineup has to be a top priority for Doc Rivers the rest of the season. We’ll see who is available for the Sixers and whether they can take advantage of an undermanned Heat team tonight.