After losing three of their previous four games, with the only win being an unconvincing 101-96 victory against Orlando, the Sixers managed to grab a 98-96 comeback win against the Hawks on Friday night. It wasn’t pretty, but as Seth Curry scored 18 points, Joel Embiid got rolling for 28-12-4, and the Sixers won the fourth quarter 20-9, they moved to 12-11 for the season.
Now, to finish their current road trip, they’re heading to Charlotte for a two-game mini-series against the Hornets.
Ben Simmons remains out for personal reasons, while Tobias Harris is questionable with a non-COVID illness.
Meanwhile, the Hornets are seriously depleted with LaMelo Ball, Jalen McDaniels, Mason Plumlee and Terry Rozier all currently out due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The Hornets will also be finishing off a back-to-back after beating the Hawks 130-127 on Sunday, as their shorthanded rotation was led by Miles Bridges (32 points on 11-of-15 shooting) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (28 points on 11-of-17 shooting).
The Sixers will have clear advantages in terms of health and rest for Monday’s game. Charlotte missing Ball (who’s averaging 20 points and 8.3 assists per game this season) and Rozier (a shifty, high-volume shooter adding 17.7 points a night) in particular will be a major help for Philly.
While their performance has been up and down at times, the Hornets have been one of the more fun teams to watch in the NBA this season. With their up-tempo fourth-ranked offense, featuring plenty of shooting, playmaking, creative movement, and thrilling transition play orchestrated by Ball, there’s a lot to enjoy. But their 29th-ranked defense holds them back, and eventually they could use a center upgrade from Plumlee to elevate their defense and better support the surrounding perimeter talent.
With the Hornets’ already limited center rotation now even more depleted (second-year backup Nick Richards started on Sunday against Atlanta), this game should be a fantastic chance for Embiid to assert his dominance again and go to work with his typical array of post-up and face-up moves while drawing plenty of fouls against an inexperienced opponent. And if the Hornets continue downsizing more without Plumlee, P.J. Washington should continue to get even more run at center. Rather than asking Andre Drummond to defend as much against elevated speed and spacing, the Sixers could counter by giving Georges Niang a few more minutes at center as well.
Tyrese Maxey has still been having an incredibly impressive second season, but he has cooled off over the last two weeks. In his last six games, he’s only shooting 31 percent from the floor and just 13.3 percent from three. Perhaps facing the Hornets’ weak defense (one that also doesn’t have much resistance at the point of attack to stop Maxey’s drives) over the next two games will give the young guard a chance to bounce back and start finding a better rhythm playing alongside Embiid. How the two build their chemistry is the main development to focus on right now.
Defensively, Tobias Harris will have his hands full trying to keep up with Bridges running the floor and exploding to the rim on cuts/drives to the basket. Bridges has been having a breakout season, averaging a career-high 20.4 points (way up from 12.7 last year), 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, all while upping his three-point volume and maintaining solid efficiency with a 56.9 true shooting percentage. Expect the high-flying forward to be prominently featured in this mini-series. Meanwhile, Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle should lead the assignment of defending Gordon Hayward, who’s having a strong season all around and will continue to handle the ball more and run extra pick-and-rolls in Ball’s absence.
With the Hornets being significantly shorthanded and Embiid having a favorable matchup for this mini-series, the Sixers should have a decent chance to pick up two wins before their schedule toughens up later into the month. After these two outings against Charlotte, the Sixers will be moving on to face Utah, Golden State, Memphis, Miami and Brooklyn for their next five games.
When: 7:00 pm ET, December 6, 2021
Where: Spectrum Center, Charlotte, NC
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic