The majority of the Sixers’ roster underwhelmed in the team’s last game on Sunday, but that doesn’t always matter when you have Joel Embiid. Philly’s MVP candidate was sensational yet again, recording 44 points, 17 rebounds, three assists, one steal and five blocks to carry the team to a 112-108 win over the Cavaliers.
The Sixers’ run of games against weaker opponents continues on Tuesday, as they continue their road trip in Indiana against the 25-54, 13-seed Pacers.
Chris Duarte (sore left big toe), Ricky Rubio (left knee ACL tear), Myles Turner (left foot stress reaction), and T.J. Warren (left navicular fracture) all remain out for the Pacers. Malcolm Brogdon (lower back soreness) and Goga Bitadze (right foot soreness) are both listed as questionable. Process Sixer legend T.J. McConnell has also been upgraded to questionable after having surgery on his right wrist — he hasn’t played since Dec. 1.
The Pacers’ competitiveness for the season has well and truly ended by now. With a range of injuries (including those to key players like Brogdon and Turner this year) only making life more difficult, the Pacers now have the NBA’s third-worst record since the start of 2022 at 11-32. Their offense has held on to rank 15th in this span, but it’s their league-worst defensive rating (119.5, comfortably lower than the 29th-ranked Rockets at 118.2) that has really sunk their team. Missing Turner’s elite presence around the rim since the middle of January alone has made a huge difference.
Tyrese Maxey had an off scoring night against the Cavs with 4-of-11 shooting, as did Tobias Harris (4-of-14). James Harden’s passing was excellent, but he only shot 4-of-13. If they want to bounce back, facing this Pacers team with reduced point-of-attack defense and lacking rim protection should be a good opportunity to do so.
There have been some positives for the Pacers, though, with the promising play of young guys like Terry Taylor and Oshae Brissett, and Tyrese Haliburton’s terrific performance since arriving in Indiana at the trade deadline.
In 23 games with the Pacers so far, Haliburton has taken off with impressive new career-highs of 17.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 9.8 assists and 1.9 steals per game with a 62 true shooting percentage. Despite handling the ball even more, he’s creating for himself and others better than ever with increased efficiency. How well the likes of Maxey and Matisse Thybulle cover Haliburton’s three-point shooting, crafty change of pace and driving in pick-and-rolls, and heady playmaking on Tuesday will be the top defensive matchup to focus on for the Sixers.
Embiid already fared well against Myles Turner in the past due to how he could use his strength advantage and draw fouls, but the big fella should have some other favorable matchups against the Pacers’ remaining bigs. With Bitadze possibly out as well (he had moved into the starting lineup at center), other young bigs like Isaiah Jackson and Jalen Smith will be tasked with handling Embiid more. Coming off a 44-point display against the Cavs, Embiid could be in for another big showing against the Pacers as he looks to make his final statements for this year’s MVP award.
To maximize their chances at the first or (most likely) second seed, the Sixers should be looking at all their remaining regular season games as wins. With contests against Toronto, Detroit and two against Indiana, that’s certainly possible.
Consistency from game to game has been a problem for the Sixers, though. But if they want to secure the best seed possible and polish their chemistry and offensive performance in the process, they need to start getting on a roll. That should be able to start on Tuesday night in Indiana.