Remember when the Philadelphia 76ers lost to the San Antonio Spurs at home and dropped to 0-3 on the year, while San Antonio moved to 2-1? That’s certainly a relic of the 2022-23 NBA season. Since then, the Sixers are 33-14 and the Spurs are 12-37.
San Antonio ranks 30th in net rating (minus-9.9), 27th in offensive rating (111.7) and 30th in defensive rating (121.6). Per 100 possessions, the Spurs are more than two points worse defensively than the 29th-place Detroit Pistons (119.5). Philadelphia is fifth in net rating (plus-3.6), ninth in offensive rating (116.1) and sixth in defensive rating (112.5).
The Spurs have shown some signs of life offensively, ranking 16th in offensive rating (115.2) over the past two weeks (seven games), and are capable of explosive outings. Given the Sixers’ inconsistencies on that end the past five weeks, they’ll certainly need to bring a level of connectivity, especially off the ball, that has been absent at times as of late.
However, the Spurs are a tremendously erratic defensive team lacking communication, execution and mobility/screen navigation on the wings. The Sixers can score against this team and should repeatedly. Joel Embiid notched 40 points on 63 percent true shooting last time they met, which was before he really found his MVP-caliber footing and his chemistry with James Harden exploded.
For the Sixers, Joel Embiid once again has his customary questionable tag with foot soreness. Devin Vassell, who scored 22 points and drilled four triples in the Spurs’ October win over Philadelphia, is out indefinitely after undergoing an arthroscopic procedure on his knee last month. As of late, rookie wing Jeremy Sochan has been entrusted with a significant ball-handling role and produced enticing returns, but he is out tonight with a back injury, as is Romeo Langford (hip). Tre Jones is listed as doubtful with a foot injury.
San Antonio allows the second-highest rate of shots at the rim to opposing teams and sits first in lowest opposing three-point frequency, according to Cleaning The Glass. That could mean lots of space for Harden and Embiid to operate in ball-screens, while potential help stays glued to shooters like Tobias Harris, De’Anthony Melton, Tyrese Maxey and Georges Niang. Jakob Poeltl’s a tremendous defender, but I do think he’s been overextended this year and it leaves him susceptible to miscues, especially against an offensive duo as multifaceted as Embiid and Harden.
Offensively, the Spurs love floaters (hello, Poeltl, Keldon Johnson and Tre Jones) and crash the glass a ton. They’re fifth in offensive rebounding rate. Philadelphia is 19th in defensive rebounding rate. Embiid patrolling the boards like he did in Saturday’s win over the Denver Nuggets could be quite the boost to prevent San Antonio from collecting many second-chance opportunities.
In his previous seven outings, the versatile 6-foot-9 forward was averaging 18 points (60.6 percent true shooting), 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists, headlined by a career-high 30 points against the Phoenix Suns. If he’s available, I wonder how the Sixers defend him because he’s proven adept at utilizing space teams grant him, whether it’s as a driver, shooter or mismatch scorer.
San Antonio is 21st in opposing turnover rate. Philadelphia has coughed up 37 giveaways in its past two games, so this could be a chance to clean up those issues. The Orlando Magic, flooded by miles of rangy length, are a bit feistier (14th in opponent turnover rate) in that realm as well. Harden (seven turnovers Wednesday) and Embiid (six turnovers Monday) have been at the core of this problem. Restoration from those two could get the once-potent offense, which has struggled this week, back on track.
Friday marks the final bout before a 12-game stretch that features 11 playoff contenders, including the Boston Celtics (twice), Milwaukee Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies. How Philadelphia handles this one will be worth monitoring as it looks to keep pace in a crowded Eastern Conference.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. San Antonio Spurs
When: 8 p.m. EST
Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic