Exactly a month ago, the Philadelphia 76ers welcomed the Cleveland Cavaliers to Wells Fargo Center with Cleveland riding a seven-game winning streak and sitting only a game behind Philadelphia for the East’s No. 3 seed. Now, the Sixers are enjoying a five-game winning streak and venturing into Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse sitting three games clear of the Cavaliers for third. The two teams square off Wednesday, with each side looking to win the season series, 2-1.
For the Sixers, this contest marks the start of a stretch in which they play seven of their next eight on the road. Cleveland, meanwhile, is beginning a brief two-game home stand after defeating the Charlotte Hornets on the road Tuesday, 120-104. All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell sat out that game for left finger sprain injury management.
Cleveland is yet to submit its injury report for Wednesday’s nationally televised matchup. Jarrett Allen suffered an eye injury during a March 10 loss to the Miami Heat and has been sidelined for the Cavaliers’ past two outings.
On Philadelphia’s side, Jalen McDaniels (right hip contusion) is questionable. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that McDaniels did not participate in Wednesday’s shootaround. Head coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t practice Tuesday either. Rivers did, however, say he expects McDaniels to be ready for Wednesday’s game. McDaniels is the lone Sixer included on the injury report with an ailment. Jaden Springer, Louis King and Mac McClung are all on G League assignment.
Jalen McDaniels did not participate in today’s shootaround. # SIXERS— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) March 15, 2023
Doc Rivers: “It’s nothing serious we don’t think. We expect him to be ready for tomorrow [vs. the Cavs], but we don’t know yet. … But there’s no way we are going to let him practice today. We didn’t do enough anyway today.” https://t.co/x8lWyodhyC— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) March 14, 2023
Philadelphia enters this one at 45-22 and a game back of the Boston Celtics for the No. 2 seed. It’s fifth in net rating (plus-4.3), third in offensive rating (118.0) and ninth in defensive rating (113.7). Cleveland is 44-27 and fourth in the East, three games clear of the 41-30, fifth-seeded New York Knicks. The Cavaliers lead the NBA in net rating (plus-6.1), are ninth in offensive rating (116.7) and third in defensive rating (110.6).
When these squads clashed in mid-February, the Sixers dominated the first 2.5 quarters and amassed a lead as large as 27 points in the third quarter. But Cleveland trimmed its deficit all the way to four late in the fourth quarter before Philadelphia got a necessary stop and knocked down its free throws during the foul game.
Joel Embiid notched 29 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block, and was particularly crisp down the stretch. Between the 5:30 and 2:19 mark of the final frame, he scored or assisted on 10 consecutive Sixers points to keep the offense humming as the Cavaliers mounted their comeback.
If Allen is unable to go, that would certainly behoove James Harden, Embiid and the entire Philadelphia offense. Evan Mobley is a tremendous defender in line for a smattering of All-Defensive Team appearances, but Cleveland’s depth on the interior beyond him is precarious and its point-of-attack defense is already limited.
Allen’s absence could offset some potential regression from deep for the Sixers. In that last game, they shot 13 of 27 (48.1 percent) beyond the arc. A more efficient outing from Embiid, who uncharacteristically misfired on quite a few routine shots, could be the remedy as well. His 29 points came on 55.2 percent true shooting, nearly 10 percentage points lower than his season-long clip of 64.8 percent.
On the other end, the Cavaliers will still run offense through their two star guards, Mitchell and Darius Garland. That duo was quite effective in February, combining for 60 points on 38 shots and 11 assists to three turnovers. Led by Mitchell, Cleveland found success dialing up the pace to generate more chances in the open floor. Philadelphia must organize its defense quickly and prevent Mitchell from attacking a scattered unit on that end.
Another change that opened up the Cavaliers’ offense was Evan Mobley being deployed in a variety of ways rather than primarily as a spot-up option. In the first half, Mobley’s lack of shooting gravity bogged down half-court sets and benefited Philadelphia. In the second half, he was used more in the dunker spot, as a roller and as a cutter.
The Sixers struggled to adapt or properly track him off the ball and Mobley got loose for numerous buckets. Twenty-one of his 23 points occurred after intermission. He went 9 of 14 from the floor following an 0-of-5 first 24 minutes. Philadelphia will have to keep better tabs on him and be prepared for an adjustment like that, which could take place from the outset. If Allen does miss this game, it might not be a bad idea to put P.J. Tucker on Mobley and Embiid on Isaac Okoro, a hesitant and inconsistent shooter, to let the big fella roam. Lamar Stevens has started the last two games in place of Allen. He’s a poor shooter. Maybe, he’s Embiid’s assignment. There are welcomed choices if Allen is sidelined.
Given how well the Sixers started and how shrewdly Cleveland adjusted in February, I’m curious to see how each club comes out Wednesday night. This should be an entertaining affair only heightened by ESPN’s nationally televised presence.
When: 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Cleveland, OH
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic