The schedule makers certainly didn’t ease the Philadelphia 76ers into the regular season to any degree, starting them off with consecutive games against the last two clubs to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. With the number of new parts being worked into the rotation, the Sixers could have used more of a cushiony runway. In Tuesday night’s 126-117 loss to Boston, numerous Philadelphia defensive miscommunications led to open looks for the Celtics, who looked much more cohesive with nearly the same rotation intact and available from last year’s Finals squad.
After making comments about focusing on the team’s defensive identity, Joel Embiid did not look the part in Game 1 of 82, putting forth one of his poorer outings on that end of the court, complete with early foul trouble and step-slow decision making. Despite some loaded box score numbers, the offensive end wasn’t terribly better for Joel, replete with very avoidable turnovers. Philadelphia will need Embiid to shake off the offseason rust in a hurry, as they now take on a Milwaukee Bucks squad every bit in the same class as the Celtics.
The Bucks took home the Larry O’Brien Trophy two summers ago, and pushed Boston to a Game 7 last postseason despite the absence of All-Star Khris Middleton. Giannis Antetokounmpo won the NBA MVP award in 2019 and 2020, and you could make a reasonable argument for him as the best player in the world in any given year. With Giannis, the Bucks can get in the ring with any opponent in any given night or series.
Milwaukee largely chose to bring back the same group from last season, re-signing Bobby Portis, Wes Matthews, Jevon Carter, and Serge Ibaka during the offseason. The only additions of note are 24th overall pick MarJon Beauchamp from the G League Ignite, and veteran Joe Ingles, who will be unavailable for at least half the season recovering from a torn ACL. Delaware Jordan himself Donte DiVincenzo is the only major departure.
Tonight is not a bad time to catch the Bucks, who are dealing with injuries to a couple key pieces. Middleton is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season continuing to recover from his wrist injury sustained last postseason. The three-time All-Star is MIlwaukee’s second-leading scorer, and probably their best traditional isolation option. Not having him around to anchor non-Giannis lineups is a huge blow for the Bucks. Milwaukee will also be without forward Pat Connaughton, a valuable 3-and-D piece who is out three weeks with a right calf strain.
From the Sixers’ perspective, all eyes will be on James Harden to see if his outstanding 35-point season debut represents a New Normal for the veteran after a bevy of positive stories around his offseason. He’ll certainly be tested by defensive ace Jrue Holiday, but another strong showing will bode extremely well for Philadelphia’s ceiling this season.
Sixers fans would also like to see a better performance from the second unit. A good bit of the optimism around the Sixers heading into the season was due to how they were a much deeper team following the handful of offseason additions. However, in Boston, the bench combined for just 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Coming off a DNP-CD in the Celtics game, will we see Paul Reed tonight, who has had success against Giannis Antetokounmpo in the past?
Paul Reed had words for Giannis after he blocked his shot pic.twitter.com/rVxEXagg9j— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 10, 2021
The home crowd should be hyped tonight, due not only to it being the home opener, but not having to split attention with the Phillies, who have their lone off day of the week in the NLCS. The Sixers got their feet wet the other night, so hopefully that’s an advantage over the Bucks, who could potentially have some opening-night jitters. Philadelphia needs to show Giannis and the Bucks this is not his court.
Giannis was met with boos from the Philadelphia crowd after hitting a jumper and sitting down on the court...pic.twitter.com/UisQ4XbYqK— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) March 18, 2021
Time: 7:30pm ET
Place: The Center, Philadelphia, PA
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic