The Sixers competed well against the Suns on Sunday. Joel Embiid was stellar with 37 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks, but he didn’t have enough offensive help to beat the best team in the league. With a poor 2-of-11 shooting night from James Harden, a quiet second half from Tobias Harris after he excelled in the first, and Tyrese Maxey getting off to a slow start before heating up in the fourth quarter, the Suns were too strong at both ends of the floor, led by a red-hot Devin Booker scoring 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting.
On Tuesday, the Sixers will have another chance to show what they can do against another tough opponent, as they take on the third-place Bucks.
The Bucks will mostly be at full strength. DeAndre’ Bembry (right knee surgery) is out, while Giannis Antetokounmpo (right knee soreness) is probable and Jrue Holiday is available after missing Milwaukee’s last game with left ankle soreness. The only Sixers listed on the latest injury report are Charles Bassey, Myles Powell and Jaden Springer on G League assignment.
This is an important game for the Eastern Conference standings. The top four teams are all sitting within a win or two of each other, and as the Sixers and Bucks (who both own a 46-28 record) have currently split their regular season series at 1-1, Tuesday night will be the tiebreaker.
The big change for this matchup between Philly and Milwaukee is the return of Brook Lopez, who came back on Mar. 14 after recovering from back surgery. Lopez’s absence has had a massive impact in the Bucks’ defense slipping all the way to 13th this season. His size and quality rim protection is key to the backline of their defense and success using drop coverage, and while mixing up their coverages more without him does help their versatility (especially for the playoffs), Lopez has been sorely missed.
The Bucks have now gone 10-3 over their last 13 games with a +6 net rating in this stretch, picking up some noteworthy wins against teams like Miami, Chicago (twice) and Phoenix. Milwaukee’s top trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday have all been shooting highly efficiently in this span, helping Milwaukee’s offense (sixth in this run and fifth for the season) lead the way as their defense remains around league average. The Bucks are coming off a rough 127-102 loss to the Ja Morant-less Grizzlies on Saturday, though, while Holiday was out.
Lopez’s return will immediately give the likes of Harden, Maxey and Harris more to worry about on drives to the rim, and give the Bucks a strong, rock-solid defensive 7-footer to throw at Embiid that they’ve missed this season. After Embiid missed the Sixers’ first game against the Bucks this season, he erupted for 42 points on 14-of-21 shooting when they last played on Feb. 17, bullying smaller bigs like Serge Ibaka and Bobby Portis. How much the Sixers look to pull Lopez away from the basket in pick-and-rolls (albeit with Lopez in drop coverage), or have Embiid space to the three-point line when others like Harden and Maxey initiate will be interesting to monitor.
The Sixers have picked up two of their best wins of the Harden era so far over the last two weeks, beating Dallas and then Miami with both Embiid and Harden sidelined. Defeating the Bucks to help a push for the first seed and win the season’s tiebreaker against them would certainly be another of the Sixers’ best results.
With Antetokounmpo and Embiid both playing excellent basketball right now, this outing is also another chance for them to both make a statement in their respective MVP campaigns. If Embiid can be at his best and play a part in slowing down Giannis’ drives somewhat, as he’s done well in the past, it could be the kind of performance to catch the attention of award votes as the regular season winds down. And with the Sixers’ schedule significantly easing up after Tuesday’s game, it’s Embiid’s last chance to show off against a top opponent.
If the Sixers bring some of the sharp defensive energy they’ve shown more lately, this should be another fun matchup.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks
When: 7:00 pm ET, Mar. 29, 2022
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic