All eyes are on Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, with everyone following the league wanting to know if Ben Simmons will still be playing Call of Duty in Moorestown, NJ at the end of the week. In the meantime, however, the Philadelphia 76ers have one more game to play before possibly altering the future trajectory of the franchise. It’s a very tough test, too, as the Phoenix Suns come to town with an NBA-best record of 43-10. Aside from home-court advantage, though, the Sixers will also benefit from the Suns playing in Chicago last night, 1 127-124 Phoenix victory.
There’s every reason to believe the Suns will be making a strong push to return to the NBA Finals. They’re top-three in the league in both offensive and defensive rating (tied for third, defensively). Chris Paul continues to defy the aging curve as one of the game’s best point guards on both ends, and Devin Booker is 13th in the league in scoring at 25.5 points per game. The surrounding roster has a tremendous amount of youth (Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson) with enough experience now to start being extremely dangerous, plus a sprinkling of grizzled vets like Jae Crowder and JaVale McGee.
Philadelphia has fared alright against Western Conference powerhouses this season, already logging wins against Golden State and Memphis, who sit second and third behind Phoenix in the West. Recently, Philadelphia bounced back from two losses that slipped through their fingers against Washington and Dallas, with a solid victory Monday night in Chicago. As usual, Joel Embiid led the way, recording 40 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. He’s now leading the league in scoring at 29.3 points per game, possibly on his way to the franchise’s first scoring title since Allen Iverson in the 2004-05 season. He’s anchoring the team’s offense, defense, and public relations on radio 97.5; the man does it all.
While the Suns are relatively healthy among their top guys, they do have a large portion of their bench sidelined. Dario Saric (ACL), Frank Kaminsky (knee), Cam Payne (wrist), Landry Shamet (ankle), and Abdel Nader (knee) are all out. Prayer hand emojis for the Homie Dario in his rehab. Tearing an ACL in Game 1 of the Finals has to be brutal, and we all want him at his herky-jerky best when he is able to return to the court.
The Sixers are in a healthier stretch of the season themselves. The injury report only consists of Shake Milton remaining out with his back injury, and Matisse Thybulle being questionable with that lingering shoulder discomfort after sitting out the Chicago game. (After the push that caused Matisse’s hard fall, Dennis Schröder is officially on the list.) Maybe Friday’s injury report will include James Harden (questionable - hamstring)? One can hope.
It has been and will be a tense week leading up to what may or not be the conclusion of the Ben Simmons saga in Philadelphia. Let’s unplug from all the drama for a few hours and enjoy what should be a highly entertaining basketball game between two of the best teams in the league.