It’s Friday morning and the Philadelphia Eagles have played a game more recently than our Philadelphia 76ers. With a quirk in the schedule having given the Sixers a rare four consecutive days off, they enter tonight’s contest very well-rested against the 11-3 Milwaukee Bucks.
The time off is also fortunate for the rest of the league, who needed plenty of long hours to dissect film and discover how they might possibly slow down Joel Hans Embiid. Embiid is coming off what might end up being the virtuoso performance of his career when it’s said and done: 59 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 7 blocks, and 1 steal in Sunday’s 105-98 win over the Utah Jazz. It capped a week where the star center earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors, averaging 40.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.8 blocks across four games.
Behind the big man’s prodigious performances, the Sixers went 3-1 on the week and are now back up to .500 at 7-7 on the season. With Joel looking like the perennial MVP candidate again, things are looking up for the team if James Harden comes back from his month-long absence as the rejuvenated version we saw at the start of the season.
But first, the Sixers must face the Bucks, who most recently came out victorious over the Cleveland Cavaliers, 113-98, on Wednesday night. Milwaukee only trails the Boston Celtics by a half-game for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, a 1-2 combination most predicted heading into the season. The Bucks’ strong start is especially impressive considering All-Star Khris Middleton has yet to make his season debut following offseason wrist surgery.
As usual, Giannis Antetokounmpo is crushing it, averaging 29.9 points, 11.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game. He may not be the face of the league, but he’s certainly on the short list.
Serge Ibaka: "Do you feel like you are the face of the league?"— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) November 16, 2022
Giannis: "No. LeBron is still playing. Steph just won a championship. KD is still hooping. Embiid is killing. Jokic back-to-back MVP. Luka Magic. There's a lot of people out there."pic.twitter.com/N8yXEooIsh
Additionally, veteran big man Brook Lopez is off to an especially terrific beginning of the campaign. He is third on the team in scoring (behind Giannis and Jrue Holiday) at 16.4 points per game, which would be his highest mark since his last season in Brooklyn in 2016-17. Lopez is also averaging what would be a career-best 2.5 blocks per game. Currently shooting 38.9 percent from three, his ability to pull Joel Embiid out from his rim protection duties is something that has given the Sixers difficulty in previous meetings.
Speaking of previous meetings, these two clubs met for the Sixers’ home opener back in October, a 90-88 win for the Bucks. You may recall the defensive miscommunication that led to Wes Matthews’ go-ahead three-pointer in the final minute. Fortunately, the Sixers have been much better on the defensive end since that rough start to the season, now up to the fourth-best defensive rating in the NBA as of this writing. Of course, they’ll also be without Harden, who accounted for the bulk of the Sixers’ offense in the first meeting with 31 points and nine assists.
Things to watch for tonight:
- Brook Lopez defended Embiid very well in the first meeting this season. Does that continue with Joel now on his current heater?
- How much time, if any, does Embiid spend guarding Giannis?
- How efficient is Tyrese Maxey tonight, who has only had one good shooting performance (Saturday against Atlanta) since Harden’s injury?
- What does the backup center rotation look like? Paul Reed is ideally the better option given the matchup, but to be fair to Doc, has looked stuck in the mud in recent games. Fortunately, Joel is plenty well-rested so he can probably go big minutes, even though the team has a back-to-back tomorrow night against Minnesota.
Fun contest tonight between one of the NBA’s best teams and one of its most mercurial. Check back to Liberty Ballers tonight to follow along with all the action.
The Sixers will tip off against the Bucks at 7:30 p.m.. All nationally televised NBA games can be watched on SlingTV.