The Sixers are in a bit of a bog right now. Joel Embiid came into the year far from full strength. The team knew that he’d spent a couple months on the sofa resting his plantar fasciitis, so their answer was to basically play James Harden like he was 24 years old again to pick up the slack. Now their star point guard in Harden is out for a month. P.J. Tucker was a solid signing, but he had off season arthroscopic knee surgery himself, so his defense isn’t where the team needs it to be in order to win playoff games. De’Anthony Melton looks like a very solid pick up, despite some streaky shooting. And Tyrese Maxey has been as advertised and more, despite hitting a bit of a wall once James Harden went down. But at 5-7, nothing feels just fine in Sixersville.
Most fans feel the team needs a new voice at head coach, but for some reason the team doesn’t agree yet. So they’ll host the Atlanta Hawks tonight. A team, who may not have as much talent as the Sixers, but are somehow the better team at this point, nonetheless.
If that feels like an overly negative assessment then just remind yourself this Sixers group came into this season with sky high expectations and still wants to win a championship. So we’re being tough on them simply because we know how far they have to go to get where they want to be.
In the last game, the Hawks defense dismantled the Sixers offense in a casual 104-95 win that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score looks. The Hawks were just playing with their food for much of that game. Joel Embiid got his, dropping 26 points and 13 boards, but the dirty birds corralled everyone else. Philly shot an abysmal 38.6 percent from the field. They’re going to need to scorch the cotton in this one to get back on track.
Our Harrison Grimm wrote last week of the Hawks:
“All the questions surrounding the Murray-Young backcourt have disappeared overnight, with both thriving and putting up gaudy numbers. Through 10 games, Dejounte is averaging 22.3 points, 8.4 assists, and 6.4 rebounds per contest. Trae Young’s stats haven’t taken much of a hit either, with averages of 28.2 points and 9.4 assists per game.”
Young got off to an electric start and finished with 26 points. He would have went for much more if they hadn’t handled business so early in this one. Clint Capela hurt them inside dropping 18 points to go with 20 boards. He’s a problem for the Sixers, as they routinely lose him focusing on Young’s end of the pick-and-roll.
Teams like the Hawks, and Cavaliers, groups with multiple All-Star caliber guards present a huge challenge to the Sixers, who struggle to stop ball handlers. James Harden when healthy, isn’t the world’s best ball stopper. Tyrese Maxey has a lot of work to do to improve on D too. The team doesn’t start a traditional small forward when at full strength, as both P.J. Tucker and Tobias Harris are better on bigger forwards. Doc Rivers doesn’t usually trust defenders like Matisse Thybulle or Paul Reed enough to play consistent minutes. And Joel Embiid has been pushing himself to play more switching defense this season, but wasn’t comfortable doing that for a full game, especially with conditioning issues. As he recently noted, his skills are better served protecting the rim anyway.
So the defense still has a long way to go.
But this game is in Philadelphia. And odds makers over at Draft Kings have the Sixers favored by three. I’m guessing they’re confident that Maxey will finally get back on track as a scorer. And Embiid will continue his dominant play, even if he’s not at full strength just yet. He’s still too much for any one man to handle.
Philly will need another big effort from Tobias Harris. Harris was terrific in a huge win vs. the Suns last week. But like most Sixers, he was off down in the ATL, shooting just 5-15.
We don’t expect the Sixers to shoot so poorly again, especially in front of the home crowd. But if for some reason the team struggles, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to hear some chants directed Doc Rivers’ way from the restless Philly fans, spoiled by better products put forth by the local football and baseball teams lately.
It feels like things are harder for the Sixers than they should be these days.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Atlanta Hawks
When: 7:30 pm ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic