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Shorthanded Sixers aim to get back on track against Spurs

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers are 10-3 in their last 13 games, but after a few weeks of generally strong play they’ve slowed down over the last week. They came out completely flat against the Wizards on Monday and lost 117-98, then bounced back on Wednesday as Joel Embiid torched the Magic with 50 points in just 27 minutes, then blew a 24-point lead against the Clippers to wrap up Friday with a 102-101 loss.

When Embiid is as dominant as he’s been since returning from COVID-19 on Nov. 27, the Sixers can compete against anyone. But when the supporting cast doesn’t provide enough offense to support him and the team’s defense on the perimeter and in transition isn’t on point (which has been the case too much lately), they can falter quickly.

Before the Sixers begin a five-game home stint, they’re back on the road for one game on Sunday night against the 17-29 Spurs.

The Sixers’ guard and wing rotations are going to be awfully short again on Sunday. Seth Curry (left ankle soreness), Shake Milton (back contusion), Danny Green (right hip pain) and Matisse Thybulle (right shoulder sprain) are all still listed as out, along with Ben Simmons.

The Sixers cruised to a 119-100 win over the Spurs in their last matchup on Jan. 7, as San Antonio was playing heavily depleted due to a host of players entering health and safety protocols. Embiid tallied 31 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists and mostly had his way against Jakob Poeltl, who is still one of the NBA’s most underrated rim protectors but (like most opposing centers) struggles to contain Embiid’s strength, agility, and foul-drawing.

The Spurs will have more reinforcements in their forward/frontcourt rotation this weekend with Doug McDermott and Keldon Johnson back in action after being sidelined on Jan. 7, but the Spurs still don’t have an answer for Embiid. Drew Eubanks and Jock Landale off the bench won’t exactly be offering much resistance. And as we’ve seen over the last month or so, Embiid can be enough to carry the Sixers to wins when he’s playing better than ever.

The main offensive question in this game is how much production the Sixers can get from Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey, who will be the main factors in picking up some of the load in Curry’s absence. Maxey was out against the Spurs last time, so how effectively he can get downhill and hit his increasingly confident pull-up jumper against two quality point-of-attack defenders in Dejounte Murray and Derrick White will be a key matchup to focus on.

Meanwhile, containing those same Spurs guards will be a tougher task without Green and Thybulle in particular. Murray has been on a roll since he scored 27 points on 10-of-23 shooting against Philly earlier this month, averaging 24.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists over his last seven games, with two 30-point outings in this stretch as well. Harris tightening up his defense to keep the now returned Keldon Johnson in check (which is easier said than done given Harris’s defensive decline this season) and the Sixers’ pick-and-roll defense containing Murray on his drives will be important.

The Spurs still rank just 19th in offensive rating and 20th in defensive rating, but they’re back at full strength this time around. With the Sixers missing so much depth on the perimeter, this game should at least be a closer contest than before.

Game Info

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. San Antonio Spurs

When: 7:00 pm ET, January 23, 2022

Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX

Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @Liberty_Ballers