The Sixers made the most of having two straight games against the team sitting at 14th place in the Eastern Conference, picking up two blowout wins against the Pistons to take their record to 25-15. Their next matchup should present a bit more of a test, but still give them a good opportunity to grab another victory before heading on a more challenging five-game road trip.
On Thursday, the Sixers are up against the Thunder, who are still hanging at 13th in the West at a reasonably competitive 18-23. They’ve even gone 7-5 in their last 12, including wins against the Grizzlies, Celtics (a shockingly one sided 150-117 domination) and Mavs in this stretch.
In their last matchup against the Sixers on Dec. 31, though, it was Philly that easily came out on top. The Sixers comfortably won 115-96, led by a Joel Embiid triple double while James Harden and Tyrese Maxey were both out.
OKC will still be missing some key players this time around. In addition to Chet Holmgren who’s out for the season, Aleksej Pokusevski (non-displaced tibial plateau fracture) and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (right ankle sprain) both remain out.
Yet again, the main challenge for the Sixers in this matchup will be containing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — who’s averaging a whopping 30.8 points per game with a stellar true shooting percentage of 61.7 — as much as possible. Maxey is looking more like his fast, shifty self, and will have his work cut out for him to stick with SGA around screens and at least keep in front of some of the elite driver's attacks down the lane. De’Anthony Melton should see plenty of minutes matching up against SGA, too.
It’ll also be interesting to see if Matisse Thybulle gets much opportunity to defend OKC’s star. Thybulle’s minutes have been up and down this season and far lower overall at just 12 per game, but he made the most of his extra minutes (21) when the Sixers last played the Thunder with a shorthanded backcourt and did a decent job when defending SGA, helping to limit him to just 14 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Chances are, Thybulle won’t be as active with Harden and Maxey available this time. But if the Sixers establish an early lead again and it becomes easier to rest stars, maybe Thybulle can see more time on Gilgeous-Alexander.
Meanwhile, Harden, Tobias Harris and P.J. Tucker can deal with the 6-foot-8 Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams. Giddey has been in fine form lately as well. Over his last seven games, he's averaged 18.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists with 50 percent shooting.
Now that Embiid is back and seemingly not missing a beat after his 36-points-in-23-minutes return, he looks primed to yet again take full advantage of this matchup. The Thunder just don't have any bigs with the size or strength to bother him facing up or working on the low block, which alone could be enough to swing this game in the Sixers' favor and help them secure their third straight win before heading on the road to face the Jazz on Saturday. Amid the Thunder’s frontcourt injuries, Mike Muscala and the 6-foot-7 Eugene Omoruyi have played more minutes lately, but neither can come close to matching up to Embiid physically.
Embiid may have not been his most efficient self with 6-of-17 shooting last time against OKC, but I wouldn't expect the Thunder to get so lucky again.
With the Sixers' stars clicking, Maxey ramping up, and the bench playing well from the likes of Shake Milton and Melton to Paul Reed (just keep playing him, Doc), the Sixers should be able to take care of business on Thursday.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
When: 7:00 pm ET, Thursday, Jan. 12
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic