The Philadelphia 76ers are coming off a strong 111-97 win against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, led by Ben Simmons dominating at both ends of the floor. He smothered Luka Doncic on defense, and continued to attack with the kind of aggressiveness that’s helped drive his leap over the last month. Joel Embiid had a rough offensive game with 5-of-20 shooting, but still produced 23 points thanks to going 11-of-12 at the free throw line and had a major impact on defense.
On Saturday, the Sixers are continuing their home stint with their second game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have fallen to 12-21 and 14th place in the East after a hot start to the season. The Sixers last played the Cavs on December 27, when Embiid was out and they had one of their worst efforts of the season and committed 21 turnovers, losing 118-94. Given the current form of both teams, though, the Sixers should be able to put together a far better performance this time around.
Tobias Harris is listed as out after suffering a right knee contusion in Thursday’s game against the Mavs. The good news is that his MRI revealed no structural damage. This could present an opportunity for Doc Rivers to move Simmons to Harris’s spot at the 4 and start another guard (i.e. Shake Milton). Alternatively, Rivers may opt to keep his lead bench guards in rhythm with the second unit and start another forward, like Furkan Korkmaz or Mike Scott.
The Cavs’ frontcourt is going to be seriously shorthanded for this contest. Kevin Love remains out with a right calf strain, Larry Nance Jr. (who was having an excellent season at both ends of the floor) is out after suffering a left hand fracture earlier this month, and Andre Drummond is sitting out while the Cavs work on trading him. Forward Taurean Prince is out for personal reasons.
Nance being out for 12 of the last 13 games has been costly, especially on defense, which has played a key part in the Cavs’ recent slump. They’re only 2-10 in their last 12 games, and their once sturdy defense has slipped all the way to 25th for the season. A run of heavy losses has caused the Cavs’ net rating to plummet in the process — their -8.6 net rating is dead last in the league by a comfortable margin. Even though Darius Garland has taken a step forward and Collin Sexton in particular is continuing his strong season, the Cavs don’t have much firepower to match the Sixers.
With Drummond waiting for a trade on the sidelines, the Cavs have fully transitioned to Jarrett Allen as their new starting center, and he’s having the best year of his career. He’s providing strong defense and rebounding, with averages of 18.8 points, 13.8 boards, 2.3 assists and 2.3 blocks in his last six games as a starter. Allen has always had a tough time against the stronger Joel Embiid, though, so the Sixers’ MVP candidate should be able to operate effectively in this matchup and ideally punish the Cavs when they likely send frequent double teams.
It should be a good chance for Embiid to break out of his current cold spell offensively. After a couple of challenging games for him against the Toronto Raptors’ aggressive defense, he’s only shot 26.4 percent from the floor through the last three games.
While missing Harris obviously hurts the Sixers’ scoring, they should be able to handle a slumping Cavs team. Especially with the way Simmons is playing. It’s an opportunity the Sixers need to take advantage of before they face a couple of tougher tests ahead of the All-Star break against the Indiana Pacers and 26-7 Utah Jazz.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
When: 7:00 pm ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic