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Sixers face next road test against surging Phoenix Suns

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Boston Celtics v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers had a tough loss in the second game of their current four-game road trip, falling 118-114 to the Portland Trail Blazers. Joel Embiid scored 35 points and Ben Simmons had a brilliant game at both ends of the floor, but the Sixers made just 6 three-pointers compared to the Blazers’ 17 and allowed 15 offensive rebounds, which were critical factors in the narrow loss.

For the Sixers’ next challenge, they’re heading to Arizona to take on the 15-9 Phoenix Suns.

This game will be another test for the improved Road Sixers (they’re 7-6 with a +1.8 net rating away from Wells Fargo Center this season). They’ll also be without Shake Milton again, who is still out with a left ankle sprain. Mike Scott, who hasn’t played since January 14 due to a right knee injury, is probable.

The Suns are riding a four-game win streak and are up to 4th place in the Western Conference, thriving with a host of young, developing talent and the arrival of Chris Paul.

Paul, coming off a well-deserved All-NBA Second Team season in 2019-20, is still a top point guard. He’s been rolling as a scorer lately, too, averaging 22.4 points with a 64.3 True Shooting Percentage over his last nine games. Devin Booker is a dangerous scorer at all levels of the floor and a talented playmaker. Mikal Bridges is an All-Defensive wing and an immensely improved offensive player, from his handling and cutting to his sharp shooting (he’s at 39.7 percent from three on 5 attempts per game). Deandre Ayton has issues with consistency, but he’s a strong interior scorer, an excellent rebounder (he’s averaging 3.9 offensive boards per game, which Philly will need to keep in check), and a significantly improved rim protector with pretty good mobility. He’s a real handful at both ends of the floor whenever he wants to be. And that’s before even getting to quality role players like Cameron Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, former Sixer Dario Saric (who’s questionable with a left ankle sprain), and Cameron Payne (who’s turned himself into a good backup point guard).

Interestingly, the Suns’ offense has warmed up but hasn’t taken off yet this season. They have plenty of weapons, but their pace has slowed to 29th in the league (which is understandable given how Chris Paul picks apart defenses) and they only rank 16th in offensive efficiency. It’s their 6th-ranked defense that’s led the way.

All together, the Suns have plenty to throw at the Sixers. The Suns haven’t played since their impressive 125-124 win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday either, so they’re well rested after two days off. How they defend Simmons with guys like Bridges and Jae Crowder will be a key matchup to watch, as will Embiid’s attacks against the Suns’ bigs — he should be able to find success in the post in this matchup and keep up his monstrous free throw rate.

As for the Sixers’ defense, the main concern is obviously guarding Paul and Booker. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Simmons take on the Booker assignment, while smaller defenders such as Danny Green, Seth Curry and Tyrese Maxey (who should be set for more minutes again in Milton’s absence) take on Paul.

This game should be a fun one.

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Phoenix Suns
When: 3:00pm ET
Where: Phoenix Suns Arena, AZ
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus, NBA TV
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Follow: @Liberty_Ballers