After the shorthanded Hospital Sixers put together an admirable run of play and wins while Joel Embiid and James Harden were sidelined, the team has stumbled into a rough spell of typically Sixersy play over the last week.
They went on a lacklustre three-game losing streak, full of dull offensive stretches and weaker defense, before blowing a 16-point lead in the final five minutes and only beating the Lakers in overtime, 133-122, on Friday.
On Sunday, as they ideally continue the better parts of their performance against the Lakers, the Sixers have a chance to get rolling against a weaker opponent: the 7-19 Hornets, who sit all the way down in 13th place in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets may have won the last matchup against the Sixers on Nov. 23 (narrowly at 107-101), but this week’s game will be a far different affair with Embiid and Harden available this time.
The Hornets simply haven’t been nearly as fun, competitive, or offensively adept this season while LaMelo Ball has been on the sidelines. He missed the first 13 games of the season and has been out again since mid November with an ankle sprain. They simply can’t replace the way he creates easy transition opportunities, orchestrates their offense, and creates from beyond the arc and off the bounce.
Gordon Hayward is also out with a fractured left shoulder, taking away even more shot creation and secondary passing. Cody Martin remains out as well after undergoing left knee surgery last month, along with Dennis Smith Jr., who played some of his best ball in years to open the season but is now out with an ankle injury.
Especially in Ball’s absence, Terry Rozier’s usage has jumped. Rozier is leading the team with an average of 21.7 points per game this season, but it’s taking him 21.1 field goal attempts and a 48.4 true shooting percentage to get there. He’s way too overextended in a leading role and the efficiency isn’t pretty. Similarly, Kelly Oubre Jr. ranking second on the team in shot attempts isn’t exactly what you want for any offense.
With De’Anthony Melton — who’s been terrific on both ends lately and is coming off his finest game as a Sixer yet against the Lakers — to hound Rozier, the Hornets’ league-worst offense (they’re 30th in offensive rating by a solid margin) should struggle even more.
As long as Embiid and others actually engage consistently, the Sixers’ defense shouldn’t be overly tested at all. They still rank fourth in defensive rating for the season. They just need to snap back into the way they were defending before their latest three-game losing streak and maintain sound effort with their rotations, communication, and rebounding. Against a depleted, struggling Charlotte team, that really isn’t much to ask for. In theory, at least.
Embiid is coming off three 35-plus-point games and sharper defense against the Lakers, while Harden improved with 28 points and 12 assists vs. L.A. after shooting so poorly against the Rockets (4-of-19) in his return. Against Charlotte’s lacking point-of-attack defense and limited rim protection with bigs, such as Mason Plumlee, that Embiid can comfortably handle, the Sixers’ stars should have matchups they can take advantage of.
The Sixers couldn’t ask for a much better opponent to rediscover some offensive fluidity against and contain defensively. Will they make the most of it, or will the frustrating Sixers reappear and make this game far closer than it should be?
When: 6:00 pm ET, Sunday Dec. 11
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic