The Philadelphia 76ers have a chance to go four games over .500 for the first time this season after three straight wins against the Orlando Magic (twice) and Atlanta Hawks. The Sixers will travel to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers, who currently rank a couple spots ahead of them in the Eastern Conference.
While November NBA games typically don’t rank high in importance, one could argue this one does. Both teams are projected to finish towards the top of the East, and they could very well finish with a similar record resulting in a tie-breaker.
Much like the Sixers, the Cavs have been dealt their fair share of injuries. Star guards Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell have been in and out of the lineup with their respective injuries. Jarrett Allen, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio have been ruled out in advance of this game. Lamar Stevens is questionable with a non-COVID related illness.
The injuries, however, haven’t stopped the Cavs from having a solid start to their year. They currently sit at third in the Eastern Conference, and have a dominant record at home (8-1). They rank within the top 10 in offensive and defensive rating; seventh in offense and fourth in defense.
Cleveland made a huge splash in the offseason with the acquisition of Mitchell to pair with Garland. While the defense of their backcourt is fairly questionable, they’ve been an elite offensive unit together. Mitchell is averaging a career-best 28.9 points per game on 48.8 percent shooting. Garland is still an assist machine, averaging north of eight assists per game and averaging 22.8 points.
Then there’s Cleveland’s impressive defensive talent behind their star backcourt; featuring the likes of Allen, Evan Mobley and Issac Okoro. Allen has been in and out with various injuries, but the second-year stud Mobley has built on his early career success; averaging 2.4 stocks (steals and blocks) per game. He’s been a huge reason Cleveland hasn’t fallen off defensively in Allen’s absence.
Speaking of defense, the Sixers have excelled with theirs ever since Joel Embiid returned from his illness weeks ago.
Over the past 11 games (since Embiid returned after his sickness) the Sixers have the best defense and “the gap between the 76ers in first (103.7 points per 100 possessions) and the Indiana Pacers in second is the same as the gap between the Pacers and the Hawks, who are 15th”— Francis Parker (@franciszomes) November 29, 2022
On the season, the Sixers rank third in defensive rating behind the Clippers and Bucks. A pretty big leap from their middle-of-the-road defense from a season ago. Their offense ranks 14th overall, which is expected with them missing two of their three main offensive options.
The entire roster has stepped up in James Harden’s and Tyrese Maxey’s absence. Keep in mind, Embiid was absent from the team for a good chunk of this stretch with a mid-foot sprain.
The Sixers have cobbled together a decent stretch of games, going 8-3 in the last eleven with surprising wins against Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Phoenix. While you can point to solid games from Georges Niang, De’Anthony Melton or Tobias Harris, you can argue that nobody has stepped up quite as much as Shake Milton has. They’ll need him to continue his stellar play if they hope to win this game. Milton has averaged 22 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.6 assists on 56.3 percent shooting over the last seven games.
Fortunately, it seems like the Sixers are trending in the right direction with the injury bug. Apart from G-League assignments (Saben Lee and Julian Champagine), Maxey, Harden, and Jaden Springer are the only players listed on the injury report. Joel Embiid, Mattise Thybulle and P.J. Tucker, all of whom were listed ahead of the Hawks game, are nowhere to be found on the injury report.
The Sixers likely don’t have the offensive firepower to outscore this loaded Cavs roster, so they’ll need to lean into their newfound defensive identity to steal a win. A huge part of that will be slowing Garland and/or Mitchell.
The vibes have been great, and this game has the potential to be a huge win if they can get it done.
When: 7 p.m. EST
Where: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, Cleveland, Ohio
Watch: NBC Sports Philly
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic
The Sixers will tip off against the Cavs at 7 p.m. All nationally televised NBA games can be watched on SlingTV.