The 23-15 Philadelphia 76ers will kickstart a home-and-home series with the 11-31 Detroit Pistons on Sunday inside Little Caesars Arena at 3 p.m; they’ll play again in Philadelphia on Tuesday. Two days removed from a 126-112 at the hands of the Chicago Bulls, the Sixers will try again for the 24th win of the season.
Joel Embiid (left foot soreness) and P.J. Tucker (non-COVID illness) are out for Philadelphia. Marvin Bagley III (right hand metacarpal fractures), Cade Cunningham (left tibia stress fracture) and Isaiah Livers (right shoulder sprain) will be absent for the Pistons. Jalen Duren (right ankle soreness) is questionable.
The Sixers enter Sunday seventh in net rating (plus-3.1), 13th in offensive rating (114.6) and fifth in defensive rating (111.4). Meanwhile, Detroit is 28th in net rating (minus-7.6), 25th in offensive rating (111.4) and 29th in defensive rating (119.0).
With Joel Embiid once again sidelined, the Sixers’ offense will flow through James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris. Harden struggled mightily to score, especially downhill, in Friday’s loss, going 4-of-17 for 17 points. Maxey, on the other hand, produced his finest game yet since returning from injury, dropping 26 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 5-of-7 beyond the arc.
Montrezl Harrell’s also been quite good since Embiid exited the lineup, averaging 18 points (76.1 percent true shooting), 4.5 rebounds, two blocks and one steal over his past two outings. Led by Duren and Isaiah Stewart, Detroit’s big man depth is pretty limited and undersized, especially without Bagley in the fold. Harrell could be in for another prolific game. The Pistons are a pretty disorganized and disconnected unit defensively, which should benefit Maxey, who often thrives in those scenarios.
When Detroit came to Philadelphia back on Dec. 21, Tucker played rather impressive defense against the Pistons’ leading scorer, Bojan Bogdanovic, and helped limit him to 10 points. The Sixers won, 113-93. Ten points are the third-fewest Bogdanovic has recorded in 41 games this season. He’s scored at least 20 points in seven of eight games since then and is averaging a career-high 21.0 points (63.2 percent true shooting) on the season.
It’ll be interesting to see who head coach Doc Rivers elects to defend the Croatian sharpshooter. My hunch is Harris, with a splash of Matisse Thybulle as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if Georges Niang is also a beneficiary of Tucker’s absence and Philadelphia leans into a bunch of offensively inclined lineups featuring Niang or Harris at the small-ball 5. On Friday, Saddiq Bey was Detroit’s tallest reserve, so this could be a battle of short teams.
Aside from the fact Detroit isn’t very good and also without key players, its lack of size is another reason this game projects as a favorable matchup. Whereas Chicago and Nikola Vucevic feasted against the Tucker-Harrell frontline, the Pistons’ don’t roster anyone in the middle with size or creation chops.
Duren and Stewart are, however, excellent offensive rebounders, so there will be quite the responsibility on Harrell, as well as possibly Paul Reed, to patrol the boards effectively. Harris, Harden and De’Anthony Melton must chip in, too. Detroit is 10th in offensive rebounding rate. The Sixers are 23rd in opposing offensive rebounding rate. If the Pistons find success offensively, it’ll likely stem from that discrepancy.
We’ll learn about all these different angles in mere hours.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Detroit Pistons
When: 3:00 p.m. EST
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic