After the Philadelphia 76ers turned in a rough performance in a 112-109 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, they bounced back with one of their most well-rounded games of the season on Monday. The Sixers defeated the Indiana Pacers, 130-114, leading by as much as 31 points. Philly took control throughout the game thanks to continued two-way excellence from Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, stellar defense before their starters rested, more confident three-point shooting, and a big contribution from the bench (Shake Milton led the way with 26 points, followed by Furkan Korkmaz with 19 points and 6 triples).
Now it’s time for the Sixers’ final game before the All-Star break, and it’s going to be a tough one. For Wednesday’s matchup, they have their second game of the season against the Utah Jazz, who still hold the best record in the NBA at 27-8.
The only Sixer on the latest injury report is Tobias Harris, who’s still questionable with a right knee contusion. There will yet again be more pressure on ball-handlers like Shake Milton to help pick up more of the perimeter creation load. Mike Scott started in Harris’s place against Indiana, and has actually been playing reasonably well over the last few games.
The Jazz picked up a couple of losses over the last week, most recently a 129-124 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, who scored relentlessly at the rim with Zion Williamson (26 points) leading the way. However, the Jazz have still been surging overall and sit firmly atop the Western Conference. With the 3rd-ranked offense and 2nd-ranked defense, they have the best net rating in the league with a dominant +9.1 (Milwaukee isn’t particularly close in 2nd at +6.6). Their team defense is consistently on point with Rudy Gobert anchoring the paint, they lead the NBA in three-point makes (16.9 per game), their ball movement is excellent, and they have a host of talented scorers and ball-handlers — from Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell, to complementary guys like Bojan Bogdanovic, and Jordan Clarkson off the bench, who torched the Sixers for 40 points in their last game.
The biggest takeaway for the Sixers from their first outing against Utah was Ben Simmons’ career-high 42 points on 15-of-26 shooting, to go along with 9 rebounds and 12 assists. He was a force, comfortably attacking the rim through contact and thriving with increased usage as a screener and roll man. Simmons maintaining his increased aggressiveness next to Embiid has been key over the last five weeks, and the Sixers should look to keep getting him downhill as a driver and roll man on Wednesday. The Jazz don’t have any forwards who can match Simmons’ combination of speed, size and physicality.
Another excellent performance from Ben Simmons yesterday vs. Utah.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) February 16, 2021
A career-high 42 points (15/26 FG, 12/13 FT), 9 rebounds, 12 assists, 1 steal, 1 block.
Aggressive drives, pushing in transition, good play through contact, and lots of strong screening and play as a roll man. pic.twitter.com/ZXsx7yJEoY
After Embiid missed the Sixers’ first game against the Jazz, we’ll get to see him go head to head against Rudy Gobert this time. How the Jazz look to defend Embiid — whether they let Gobert mainly handle him one-on-one, or send many double teams — will be fun to watch.
Getting up more three-point attempts will be another way the Sixers can help themselves in this game. They only attempted 23 threes compared to Utah’s 45 last time, but the Sixers firing 35 (and making 15) against Indiana on Monday was an encouraging sign for their shooters getting a bit more trigger happy from deep.
Mike Conley missed the last Sixers-Jazz game. He would have been a worthy All-Star selection this season for the lift he’s given the Jazz’s offense with his improved play, and he’ll be another handful for the Sixers to guard. If Scott starts for the Sixers again, we could see Ben Simmons take the Donovan Mitchell assignment on defense, Seth Curry guard Conley, Danny Green guard Bojan Bogdanovic, and Scott guard Royce O’Neale.
There are plenty of reasons the Jazz have the best record in the NBA this season. This matchup will be a great test for the Sixers as they look to go into the All-Star break on a high.
Who: Utah Jazz vs. Philadelphia 76ers
When: 7:00pm ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic