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Conversing with the enemy: A Sixers-Spurs preview with Tom Petrini

Getting a little insight about Friday’s opponent.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of most games, Liberty Ballers conducts a question-and-answer session with someone possessing in-depth knowledge of the Philadelphia 76ers’ imminent opponent. Up next is Tom Petrini, who covers the San Antonio Spurs for KENS 5 in San Antonio.

Well, first off, who’s available for the Spurs? What will the rotation look like?

Dejounte Murray is back for the Spurs, and Josh Primo, Tre Jones and Bryn Forbes will be the most experienced healthy guards. Lonnie Walker IV is questionable, but I think the guy from Reading, Pennsylvania, is gonna do everything he can to [be] out there. Wing depth will be a challenge with Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, and Doug McDermott out, so expect a start from Keita Bates-Diop. Jakob Poeltl and Jock Landale will handle the majority of center minutes.

What’s one matchup you’re keeping tabs on for this game?

The biggest matchup of this game is at center. Jakob Poeltl is one of the better defensive big men in the league, and if the shorthanded Spurs have any hope of pulling off the upset, they’ll need him to limit one of the league’s best big men in Joel Embiid while staying out of foul trouble.

Biggest pleasant surprise of the season?

Coming into the season, my feeling was that San Antonio would compete effectively behind its defense. The Spurs are better than their 15-22 record suggests, and they’ve beaten the Bucks, Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, and Jazz. But I wasn’t expecting the offense to come along this quickly (15th in offensive rating).

Biggest disappointment of the season?

It’s hard to be disappointed if you have reasonable expectations for a team that’s in a learning, growing, rebuilding part of the journey, but San Antonio has delivered some poor efforts against teams it really should’ve beaten. The Spurs were healthy and got blown out by the COVID-depleted Hornets, then bounced back with a win in Utah. Then, they fell apart against the COVID-depleted Kings before going into Staples Center* and beating both Los Angeles teams there. Consistency is key, and something that has eluded this team even when mostly healthy.

*Editor’s note: No, I will not be using the new arena name. Thank you.

What’s one thing Sixers fans should watch for in this one?

My guess is Sixers fans watching this game will have to pry their eyes away from Dejounte Murray, who has both raised his production to near All-Star level and taken the mantle as the leader of this club. At 18 points, nine assists and eight boards per game, as well as low turnovers and a 34 percent clip from three, he’s been the high-efficiency lower-volume Russel Westbrook that most in San Antonio hoped he’d become. That’s all without mentioning his defense, which has been top-notch, as always. He’ll need to score more with many of his weapons out, and he may be looking to make a point to anyone in Philadelphia who may or may not have had the opportunity to trade for him before the season started.