The Sixers have slipped back slightly in their last two games, picking up a three-point overtime loss to the Cavaliers and a 112-99 loss to the Timberwolves the next night as Joel Embiid sat out.
Coming off this back-to-back and a busy stretch of a six games in nine days, the Sixers could use a break. Having an extra day of rest before their next game has come at a good time — both for Embiid as he rests his hip, and the team in general.
On Saturday, we’ll see the Sixers back on the road to take on one of the top teams in the Western Conference: the 11-4 Oklahoma City Thunder, currently riding a six-game win streak.
OKC is loaded with young talent, and they’re already at a point where they’re developing and thriving enough to climb way up the West. So far this season, they’ve been extremely well-rounded, with a balanced offensive attack spearheaded by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and sound, cohesive team defense, with Chet Holmgren protecting the paint. Thanks to their ranking of eighth in offensive rating and fifth in defense, they have the second-best net rating (+9.0) in the entire league.
De’Anthony Melton and the Sixers’ guards will have their work cut out for them against Gilgeous-Alexander, continuing his All-NBA First Team form from last season. He’s yet again putting up just over 30 points per game and a career-high 6.3 assists, with even better efficiency (a career-best 63.5 true shooting percentage) than last season. His continued improved defense and league-leading 2.3 steals per game can’t be overlooked either. He and other plus defenders like Lu Dort should be able to give Tyrese Maxey a bit of a test.
SGA may be the best driver in the league right now — he’s leading the NBA in drives per game at 20.9 and attempts more shots out of those drives (10.6) than anyone else. Even with that massive volume, he’s shooting a highly efficient 55.8 percent on those drives and making 66.7 percent of his attempts within three feet.
Besides the Sixers’ perimeter defenders like Melton needing to stick closely with him around screens and keep up with his fakes and change of pace, the interior rotations of Embiid and Paul Reed will need to be on point to help keep him in check. Jaden Springer has also been proving he's worth a spot in the Sixers' rotation, especially with his defense and terrific lateral quickness and screen navigation. It'll be interesting to see him potentially get a few minutes guarding Gilgeous-Alexander in this one.
Another intriguing matchup will be seeing how Holmgren competes against Embiid. The 21-year-old is standing out in his first healthy year in the league already. He’s been showing off his finishing, ability to put the ball on the floor, and touch from range on offense, putting up 17.1 points a night with an impressive 43.4 percent mark from three on 3.5 attempts per game. There’s been some clutch shots included in that as well...
CHET HOLMGREN MAKES UP FOR IT??? pic.twitter.com/6hFhrpNam9— Nekias (Nuh-KY-us) Duncan (@NekiasNBA) November 19, 2023
Holmgren has been impressive on defense, too. With his length, discipline, and timing (not to mention his overall positioning and communication), he can disrupt so many shots around the rim and is racking up 2.3 blocks per game.
Embiid has a major strength advantage, though, and the fakes, footwork, and foul drawing techniques to (obviously) dominate in most matchups. This one-on-one matchup will be one of the biggest individual tests of Holmgren’s young NBA career so far.
Jalen Williams would’ve been one to watch, too. The versatile 6-foot-6 sophomore has continued to improve his off-the-dribble creation to start the new season, upping his production to 17.5 points (second on the team behind SGA) and 3.6 assists per game. He’s missed the last two games with a hip issue, though, and will be a notable loss on Saturday as he remains out.
The Sixers can likely expect to handle even more creation from the 6-foot-7 Josh Giddey, and some extra minutes from Kenrich Williams and rookie Cason Wallace, who’s stepped into the starting lineup the last two games.
I also have to give Isaiah Joe a quick shoutout. The former Sixer (who was always good enough to get more playing time in Philly) is playing 20.2 minutes per game this season and firing away from deep at an elite level. On 5.7 three-point attempts a game, with many of his typical smooth shots off movement, he’s shooting a red-hot 51.8 percent.
There are some really fun matchups in this one. It should be an entertaining contest all around, and a good challenge for the Sixers as they look to bounce back out of this two-game losing spell.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
When: 5:00 pm EST
Where: Paycom Center
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic