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Down two starters, Sixers finish off homestand against Sacramento

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NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Already down superstar Joel Embiid as he rests his bruised knee, the Sixers’ starting lineup suffered another setback Wednesday night when Seth Curry sprained his ankle trying to abruptly come to a halt on a fast break. As reported yesterday, Curry will miss tonight’s contest and tomorrow’s game in New York before being re-evaluated.

While being down 40 percent of your starters is never good, Philadelphia does have the rest advantage tonight having received two days off since Wednesday’s overtime loss to the Bucks. On the opposite sideline, Sacramento is on a road back-to-back having just won last night in Boston. In a dream scenario, the Sixers come out how they did in the first three games post-All-Star break and don’t need to push anyone to play heavy minutes with another game against the Knicks tomorrow.

Such an easy night is certainly possible, as in addition to the back-to-back, the Kings have just been struggling this season. Entering the season hoping to finally make the leap and enter the Western Conference playoff picture, Sacramento sits ahead of only the Rockets (who literally never win anymore) and Minnesota, 2.5 games back of even the play-in game. The Kings are likely sellers at the upcoming trade deadline, with Harrison Barnes one of the bigger names out there as a possibility to be moved (Danny Ainge and Boston almost closing a deal feels inevitable). Stretch forward Nemanja Bjelica, an unrestricted free agent this summer making $7.15M in the last year of his deal, is someone Sixers fans will want to take a long look at tonight.

There are a few bright spots for the Kings, starting with 12th overall pick Tyrese Haliburton, who has averaged 12.7 points on .478/.425/.828 splits, 5.1 assists, and 1.3 steals in his rookie year (as of 3/19). In the previous meeting between these clubs back in February, Haliburton went 3-of-4 from 3 for 15 points, while recording two steals and two blocks. He looked like anything but a rookie, making a ton of impactful plays without taking anything off the table. Kings fans have to be banking on continued development from Haliburton, a good-to-great leap from De’Aaron Fox. I doubt such an outcome would even make up for having to watch Luka Doncic play elsewhere for the next decade-plus, though.

Although he is also an unrestricted free agent in a few months, I also need to mention the play of Process Sixer Richaun Holmes for the Kings this season. Wresting away what was originally considered a timeshare at center with Hassan Whiteside into an undisputed starting position, Holmes has averaged career-highs in points, rebounds, and blocks while shooting better than 65 percent from the field and over 80 percent from the foul line. Sacramento made a savvy move to sign Richaun to a 2-year, $10 million contract in 2019, but I imagine they’ll have plenty of competition in the open market this summer. Holmes struggled with foul trouble in last month’s meeting, but should have a much easier go of it this time around with Embiid out tonight.

For the Sixers, look for Tobias Harris to get back on track as the team’s primary initiator/closer, after he clearly ran out of gas and didn’t have his legs late in the loss to the Bucks. Hopefully, the back-to-back Wednesday also accounts for whatever offensive funk Ben Simmons was in against Milwaukee. His defense will be critical against De’Aaron Fox, who exploded for 34 points and 10 assists last month against the Sixers. Fox only shot 2-of-8 from the field with Simmons guarding him that game, per NBA.com/stats matchup data.

With Brooklyn’s loss to Orlando last night, the Sixers are back up 0.5-game for first place in the Eastern Conference. Let’s see the Sixers stay on top and hit the road tomorrow on the start of a new winning streak.

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Sacramento Kings
When: 8:00pm ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Follow: @Liberty_Ballers

Injuries:
Philadelphia: Joel Embiid - out (knee); Seth Curry - out (ankle)
Sacramento: Marvin Bagley - out (hand); Jahmi’us Ramsey - out (hamstring)