The Sixers shot 52.8 percent from three, had another 30-10 night from Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey added 22 points and a surge of scoring in the fourth quarter against the Raptors on Thursday, but Philly lost an early 15-point lead and ultimately fell 119-114.
James Harden is still struggling with his hamstring and finding much burst and elevation when attacking downhill. It hindered him again on Thursday, and helped limit him to just 3-of-12 shooting against the Raptors’ rangy, switchy defense. His excellent passing has continued, and still adds a lot of value to the offense, of course, but his finishing limitations have played a key part in him shooting only 31.7 percent over the last five games (since his 32-point night against Milwaukee on Mar. 29).
Well, on Saturday, Harden and the Sixers will have a chance to bounce back at home in their second game of the week against the Pacers, who now sit at 25-55 and 13th place in the Eastern Conference.
The Sixers will be slightly shorthanded, as Georges Niang is listed as out with patella tendinopathy in his left knee. Philly will need to downsize and distribute a few more minutes among other guards and wings, with Shake Milton and/or Furkan Korkmaz probably getting some extra run in the process.
Indiana will still be missing a few important players who remain out for the end of the regular season, including Myles Turner (left foot stress reaction), T.J. Warren (left navicular fracture), Chris Duarte (sore left big toe) and Ricky Rubio (left knee ACL tear). The Pacers will be entering this game with a rest advantage, though. They’ve enjoyed three days off with no games since playing the Sixers on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s game was an up-and-down affair. The Sixers had a few big leads, pulling away by as many as 27 points early in the third quarter, but the Pacers clawed back a few times and cut the lead to single digits in the fourth quarter before Philly closed out for a 131-122 win. However, the Sixers’ offense was firing on all cylinders from distance. They set a new franchise record by hitting 23 three-pointers, collectively capitalizing with quick catch-and-shoot looks throughout the night. Embiid was electric with 45 points on 18-of-30 shooting, while Maxey put on an eye-popping shooting display with 30 points and a new career-high of eight made threes.
Buddy Hield led the way for the Pacers on Tuesday, doing most of his damage inside the arc to score 25 points, followed by Tyrese Haliburton with 21 points and five dimes. Meanwhile, exactly as you’d expect, the Pacers’ young bigs — Jalen Smith and current starting center Isaiah Jackson — had a tough time trying to handle Embiid’s strength and footwork inside. Embiid having another opportunity to enjoy these favorable matchups could be enough to lead the Sixers’ offense to another win.
One positive for Philly against Toronto was Danny Green making the most of his opportunity to start again. He buried six triples to tally 18 points, showing the kind of the form that made him so valuable last season. After being ineligible to play in Toronto, Matisse Thybulle will be back on Saturday and likely reclaim his spot in the starting lineup. The Pacers may have been struggling for some time now, but Thybulle will be important in keeping Hield’s shooting and Haliburton’s crafty play off the dribble in check. And if Green can continue to look a little more spry and keep heating up from three, as he did against the Raptors, that would give the Sixers’ limited wing rotation a real lift at just the right time with the playoffs around the corner.
Another thing to watch this weekend will be whether Paul Reed gets to serve as Embiid’s backup again, after Doc Rivers played Reed over DeAndre Jordan against Toronto. Reed had a few errors early on in his 10 minutes of play, but he was decent overall. He provided a clear upgrade in energy from Jordan with his movement on defense, runs up and down the floor, and work on the boards (Reed finished with five points and seven rebounds, three of which were offensive).
Reed and Charles Bassey should have already been given chances to show what they can do. With how poor Jordan has generally been, the two young bigs have clearly had more energy and potential upside to offer. But if Rivers is finally experimenting now and sees enough from Reed to stop automatically giving all backup center minutes to Jordan, that would be a positive development for the Sixers’ bench.
If Embiid dominates the Pacers’ shorthanded frontcourt again, Maxey maintains his terrific form, and the Sixers’ elevated three-point shooting continues at all, that should be enough to beat a Pacers defense that’s ranked dead last in the NBA since the start of 2022.
The Sixers have a chance to end the regular season on a high note this weekend, with what should be relatively easy games against two of the bottom three teams in the East (their back-to-back finishes against Detroit on Sunday evening). Now they just need to make the most of it.
When: 1:00 pm ET, Apr. 9, 2022
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic