Our Philadelphia 76ers were rolling with four straight victories against this tough stretch of mostly playoff-caliber teams. Wins against the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, and Dallas Mavericks all had us feeling good.
Then, Steph Curry happened on Monday night. 49 points on 28 field goals (10-of-17 from 3) later, and the Golden State Warriors handed the Sixers only their third home loss since March 1. The Sixers were without Defensive Player of the Year candidate Ben Simmons, so that might have had something to do with Curry going full nuclear like some 6-foot-3 3-point shooting Godzilla monster.
Now that we’ve moved past that unpleasantness, let’s take a small breath and regroup. Oh, crap. The Phoenix Suns are in town tonight. These are not the Igor Kokoškov Suns. These are the former Sixers coach Monty Williams-led Phoenix Suns. There’s quite a difference (two, actually).
Williams took over for Kokoškov last year, and the Suns just felt different. Having Ricky Rubio allowed Devin Booker to play way more off ball and concentrate on shooting. Booker’s points per game didn’t increase. They stayed the same at 26.6, but the Suns offense had more of a flow. It was evident in the increase in wins from the year before.
Then, the Suns went out and got the “Point God” Chris Paul in November. Holy crap. This team hums. Paul is the best point guard Phoenix has had since Steve Nash, and he has made such a difference.
- Booker: continuing to be an elite scorer and shooter (26.6 PPG, 35 percent from 3 and in the 73rd percentile on spot-ups).
- Deandre Ayton: Career high 125 ORtg this year and in the 92nd percentile as the PnR roll man
- Mikal Bridges: Having his best year as a pro so far (12.9 PPG, 42 percent from 3)
Say what you want about Paul’s prickliness (and people have), but the dude is a leader. He’s changed the tone of this team. They’re second in the West (a game behind the Utah Jazz and 1.5 ahead of the Clippers). The Suns are legit.
They’re good offensively. They’re good defensively. Their one problem is rebounding as they are 21st in the league in total rebounds. That’s where the Sixers should be trying to pounce. If the Suns have an off shooting night, those rebounds and those stops will be key in winning this game.
The Sixers are currently fourth in the league in defensive rebounds and fifth in total rebounds. Controlling the paint is going to be one of the keys to this game. Joel Embiid will obviously be the focus since he leads the team in rebounds and has a favorable matchup against Ayton. (Ever since Embiid trash talked Ayton about his not playing defense, this matchup really hasn’t been one.) Ben Simmons (7.6 RPG) and Tobias Harris (7.2 RPG) are both “game-time decisions” at the time of this post.
If they’re in the game, that helps control the boards. Not only that, but it would be nice to have Simmons on the floor to guard Booker tonight. In their first meeting back in February, Booker had 36 points in a 120-111 win in Phoenix.
After losing to Golden State on Monday night and a two-game set against the Milwaukee Bucks this weekend (not to mention a two-game tilt against the Atlanta Hawks next week), hopefully the Sixers can get a dub tonight and keep the pressure on the Brooklyn Nets, who are just a half game behind us (even though they won despite giving up 129 points to the New Orleans Pelicans).
(Excuse my daily jab at the Brooklyn Nets because they play NEGATIVE defense.)
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Phoenix Suns
When: 7:00pm ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA TV
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic