The Sixers have now won three straight and 13 of their last 16 games. They’re up to fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a 29-19 record, and with Joel Embiid playing like an MVP candidate to lead the way, they’ve mostly been rolling lately.
On Saturday, they’ll be looking to finish off the week with an undefeated record against a team they’ve been closely connected to in countless trade rumors: the Sacramento Kings.
Philly could be getting a welcome boost on offense as well. Seth Curry, who’s been having an excellent season but has been out for the last four games with left ankle soreness, has been upgraded to questionable. Shake Milton (back contusion) and Ben Simmons (personal reasons) remain out. The main availability concern for Sacramento is De’Aaron Fox. He’s also been out with left ankle soreness for three games, but has been upgraded to questionable for Saturday.
The Kings have been having a rough time. They’re stuck at 13th place in the Western Conference with an 18-32 record and only two wins in their last 12 games, with a current five-game losing streak heading into Saturday’s contest. The latest low point came on Tuesday, when they were crushed 128-75 by the Celtics. Now, with the fifth-worst net rating (-5.1) in the league as they desperately try to make the play-in tournament, the only question to focus on is what they’ll do before the trade deadline.
From a Sixers standpoint, we all know that the most interesting factor with the Kings right now is whether they could actually be a trade partner in a Simmons deal before. Sacramento has been linked with the Sixers in trade rumors for months now, but on Friday we heard from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that the Kings have ended their pursuit of Simmons. According to Wojnarowski, “the Kings believe the asking price is too steep and that a pathway to a trade agreement with the Sixers doesn’t exist.” Wojnarowski added that the Kings have now turned to other possibilities in their trade talks, while the Sixers still believe there are “potential avenues” to a trade before the deadline.
Of course, it’s important to remember that reports of who’s really available have gone back and forth for weeks now, and things can always change. Nothing like this is final until the deadline has actually passed. But this would be a tough blow for the Sixers’ options before the trade deadline.
The Kings have multiple players who could fit well with the Sixers and help them right now in Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes, while the youth and continued development of Haliburton plus any draft picks involved would give the Sixers assets to use in the future if need be, too.
The most enticing young talent that had been more widely reported as the Sixers’ main King of interest, and would simply be a better fit alongside Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, is Haliburton.
The second-year guard has thrived even more recently with the extra on-ball touches new interim head coach Alvin Gentry has trusted him with. Over his last 19 games, Haliburton has averaged 16.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 9.3 assists and 1.4 steals with a 61.8 true shooting percentage and 44.8 percent three-point stroke. He’s comfortably handling more responsibility as a playmaker, continuing to showcase more craft creating in pick-and-rolls and off the dribble, and hitting an array of pull-up threes on stellar efficiency (41.9 percent for the season).
With his improved creation off the bounce, spot-up shooting, size at 6-foot-5, and savvy passing as a lead ball-handler or in secondary actions, Haliburton would fit in extremely well with the Sixers’ other starters if the Kings decide to re-engage in trade talks before the deadline. On Saturday, with De’Aaron Fox possibly sidelined, slowing down Haliburton and trying to limit his room to operate in the paint will be the main task for the Sixers’ defense. Apart from Maxey, you can probably expect Matisse Thybulle (who’s typically been deployed to smother Fox in the past) to guard Haliburton a fair amount to limit his separation to create shots and passing lanes.
Another matchup to keep an eye on will be Tobias Harris against Harrison Barnes. Harris has warmed up over the last 10 days, hitting confidently from three and getting to the rim with more decisiveness to average 23 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists with 58.4/57.1/85 shooting splits over the last five games. Barnes has been having a really solid season and is a sound defender with decent size and mobility. He should be able to give Harris a fair challenge at both ends of the floor when they’re matched up. Danny Green will likely spend some time on Barnes as well — the Sixers’ veteran wing immediately gave them a helpful two-way boost in his 15-minute return against the Lakers.
Meanwhile, Marvin Bagley III has been starting at the 4 over his last 15 games and has shown some improvement at both ends of the court. He isn’t as nimble on the perimeter, but at 6-foot-11, he will have some additional size to throw at Harris and use on the boards against the Sixers’ smaller wings/forwards.
Embiid wasn’t at his most efficient against the Lakers on Thursday, but still scored 26 points and racked up seven assists. He fired a range of sharp passes out of double teams and generated plenty of three-point looks either by direct passes or by smart hockey assists as he punished the Lakers’ rotating defense. Against Sacramento’s bigs such as Richaun Holmes, Embiid should once again be able to take control with his interior scoring and bully-ball play to draw fouls thanks to the clear strength advantage he’ll have. There’s little most centers can do against Embiid right now. And while Holmes is a fine center, and Bagley has improved lately, the Kings simply don’t have the personnel to contain Embiid.
Ultimately, this should be a good opportunity for the Sixers to grab another win before facing a tougher test against Memphis on Monday.
When: 7:30 pm ET, January 29, 2022
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic