The honeymoon period for the Hospital Sixers met an abrupt end Wednesday at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who dispatched of the 12-10 Philadelphia 76ers, 113-85. That defeat marked the first time during James Harden’s 13-game absence that Philadelphia lost a game by double-digits. As they venture into FedEx Forum to face the 12-9 Memphis Grizzlies for the second leg of their three-game road trip, the Sixers will look to keep that number at one and notch their 13th victory of the young season.
Cleveland’s 28-point drubbing knocked some shine off Philadelphia’s once-climbing net rating. It’s currently 12th in net rating (plus-1.6), 19th in offensive rating (111.6) and third in defensive rating (110.0). The Grizzlies counter with better balance than those extremes. They’re ninth in net rating (plus-2.3), ninth in offensive rating (114.8) and 14th in defensive rating (112.5).
The Sixers remain without James Harden (right foot tendon strain), Tyrese Maxey (left foot fracture) and Jaden Springer (right quad strain). Harden is reportedly eyeing Monday’s game against the Houston Rockets for a return. Friday will mark two weeks since Maxey’s injury. He’s expected to be out 3-4 weeks. Tobias Harris is questionable due to a non-COVID illness. He exited Wednesday’s game early for the same reason.
Memphis is also shorthanded. Desmond Bane (right big toe sprain), Ziaire Williams (right patellar tendinitis), Danny Green (left knee surgery recovery) are sidelined. Jake LaRavia (left foot soreness) is listed as doubtful.
Priority No. 1 in slowing this top-10 offense is performing well on the defensive glass. The Grizzlies, for the second straight season, lead the NBA in offensive rebounding rate (33.8 percent). Similarly, Steven Adams leads the league in individual offensive rebounding rate for the second straight season. Thanks to some inspired efforts as of late, the Sixers have perked up to 10th in defensive rebounding rate (26.2 percent). But this specific angle surely favors Memphis, who will flood the boards like seemingly nobody else.
It often requires defenses an adjustment period to acclimate to that level of aggression. Among boxing out, properly positioning himself inside and high-pointing rebounds, Joel Embiid patrolled the glass quite well in Monday’s win. He’ll have to replicate that to help prevent the Grizzlies from piling up second-chance opportunities against Philadelphia’s top-three defense.
When they’re not producing another look at the bucket, the Grizzlies are beaming down the floor for fast breaks, spearheaded by the frenetically explosive Ja Morant. They’re top-10 in both transition frequency (seventh) and points per 100 possessions (129.5). Slowing teams in the open floor is, uh, not a strength of the Sixers’ defense, though the absence of Bane is a break for them. He’s tremendous all-around, but especially so alongside Morant in the open floor. Keeping tabs on Jaren Jackson Jr. as a trailing shooter will be important, too.
In their loss to the Minnesota Timerbwolves on Wednesday, Memphis started Morant, Dillon Brooks, John Konchar, Jackson and Adams. None of them are included on the injury report, so I’d imagine they’re available Friday. I presume we’ll see De’Anthony Melton on Morant, Milton on Konchar, P.J. Tucker on Brooks, Tobias Harris on Jackson and Embiid on Adams.
The double-big lineup of Jackson and Adams has been stifling since Adams arrived last summer. In 2021-22, the Grizzlies posted a defensive rating of 109.5 when those two shared the floor across 2,263 possessions. This season, they’ve posted a defensive rating of 92.8 in 175 possessions.
To avoid accentuating those results, the Sixers will probably run a lot of angle pick-and-rolls and feed Embiid in the middle of the floor. Adams is likely too strong for Embiid to reliably overwhelm on the block, whereas his quickness is an advantage in space over the New Zealander. Plus, the high post allows Embiid to better track how Jackson Jr. is bringing help, given how adept the Michigan State product is in that roaming role defensively. I’d bank on Jackson “guarding” Tucker and aggressively roaming off of him. Cleveland found considerable success doing so with a jumbo-sized frontline. Memphis could follow suit.
These 12-win teams and all the storylines accompanying their matchup will soon butt heads.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Memphis Grizzlies
When: 8 p.m. EST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tennessee
Watch: NBC Sports Philly
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic