The Philadelphia 76ers have mostly been playing well in Joel Embiid’s recent absence, earning a 6-3 record without him. The Sixers’ latest game, however, was a far more lacklustre effort. The starters didn’t bring nearly the kind of energy or defense they needed against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, and went on to lose, 104-95.
The Sixers should have a good opportunity to get back on the right track on Thursday, though. They’re bringing their current six-game road trip to a close against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have gone 3-7 in their last 10 games and rank just 13th in the Eastern Conference at 17-30.
Apart from Embiid and George Hill, the Sixers are at full strength for this game. The Cavs, meanwhile, are going to be significantly depleted. Larry Nance Jr., who’s been having a quality season all around and playing excellent defense, is out with illness. Jarrett Allen is out with a concussion, which has led to new backup center Isaiah Hartenstein immediately joining the starting lineup after being dealt to Cleveland at the trade deadline. Kevin Love (right calf soreness) and Matthew Dellavedova (appendectomy) are both questionable, while Dylan Windler (left knee soreness) is doubtful. Dean Wade has taken on a larger role over the last five weeks and has provided a helpful dose of three-point shooting, and also joined the Cavs’ starting five in their last game (a 114-75 loss to the Utah Jazz).
The Sixers’ last outing against the Cavs (a 112-109 overtime loss on February 27) was an ugly one. Even though Tobias Harris was out with a bruised knee, the Sixers still had 42 points from Embiid and should have easily been able to pick up a win against a team near the bottom of the league standings. Philly’s supporting cast failed to step up and the team committed 19 turnovers, too. Since then, the Sixers have gone 10-3, while leading the NBA in defensive rating (103.2, well ahead of the Lakers in 2nd at 107.6) and net rating (+9.6) in this span.
The Sixers’ starting five should only be able to improve from their performance against the Nuggets when they take on the Cavs, who rank dead last in net rating (-8.2) and offensive rating (103.8). There’s only so much the continued strong play of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton can do for their offense. If the Sixers’ defense locks in again and they sharpen up their pick-and-roll coverages when Garland and Sexton look to get downhill, they should have enough firepower to beat the the worst offense in the league. Especially as the Cavs don’t have their two top defensive bigs, either.
With no Nance and Allen, the Sixers should have a good opportunity to find more success attacking the rim, which is exactly what they need from Ben Simmons. Besides picking up too many messy turnovers since the All-Star break (4.8 per game), Simmons’ finishing and scoring efficiency have dropped off somewhat as well. Playing against a smaller, depleted Cavs frontcourt should give him a chance to bounce back offensively.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
When: 7:00pm ET, Thursday, April 1
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Cleveland, OH
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic