On the surface, things are going great for the Philadelphia 76ers. They are 9-1 in their last 10 games and just a half-game back of the Boston Celtics for second place in the East. But like a duck swimming, look just beneath the surface and things are churning frantically.
James Harden is dealing with a sore Achilles that caused him to miss the last game against the Chicago Bulls and have likely the worst game of his Sixers career in the prior game versus those same Bulls. Joel Embiid never exited the halftime locker room during Wednesday night’s win due to calf tightness. Both players are currently listed as questionable for tonight, and we don’t know the exact degree of injury for either guy. But you know what you don’t like to hear about with the playoffs less than three weeks away? Lower body injuries concerning your team’s two most important players.
Piling on the bad tidings, the Sixers are embarking on a gauntlet portion of the schedule more daunting then the Eliminator finale on American Gladiators. They have a road back-to-back over the next two nights against Golden State and Phoenix, who are both near the top of the chaotic mess in the Western Conference where the 4-12 seeds are separated by just three games. Road back-to-backs are already a blazing inferno of scheduler makers’ fury, so let’s add two clubs where every game is critical for their playoff lives on top of it. The Sixers then have a game in the NBA’s toughest environment (the unfair altitude of Denver), a “break” at home to Dallas and on the road in Toronto, before their consecutive games against Milwaukee and Boston. If Philadelphia comes out of this stretch still in position to grab the second seed, they will have unquestionably earned it.
As for tonight’s game, the Warriors have the weirdest home/road split in the league, 29-7 at home and 9-29 on the road. Playing in front of the Silicon Valley tech bros wouldn’t benefit our Sixers then. The Sixers won in Philadelphia back in December, 118-106, behind 34 points from Joel Embiid and 27 points and nine assists from James Harden. Jordan Poole scored 29 points in that contest starting in place of an injured Steph Curry, while Tyrese Maxey was out for Philadelphia.
Both Splash Brothers will take the court for tonight’s proceedings. Curry already has a 40-point game against Oklahoma City and a 50-point game against the Clippers under his belt this month, although both those performances came in Golden State losses. Klay Thompson has been much less consistent, but showed he is still capable of going on a heater when he drained eight threes for 38 points against Phoenix less than two weeks ago.
The Warriors are just coming off a five-game road trip themselves that saw them lose the first three games, before beating Houston and Dallas. You might have heard about that two-point win over the Mavericks that Dallas is protesting due to Golden State scoring a bucket without the Mavericks guarding that side of the court. Hopefully, the Sixers can catch Golden State on that classic, sluggish performance on the first home game following a long road trip.
Jalen McDaniels joins Embiid and Harden on the questionable list tonight, although he did play nine minutes on Wednesday. For Golden State, Andrew Wiggins is still out for personal reasons. Andre Iguodala just underwent wrist surgery and remains sidelined. Gary Payton II is intensifying workouts coming off an abdominal injury, but is looking at Sunday as a possible season debut with the Warriors after they re-acquired him at the trade deadline.
Much of the Sixers’ chances tonight will obviously depend upon whether Embiid and/or Harden suit up. Doc Rivers said on Wednesday that Joel was expected to play, while James was more up in the air. More importantly, the Sixers need those guys healthy in the postseason, so they need to take the longest view in the room regarding injury management. It probably wouldn’t be smart to have either play a back-to-back so maybe it would make more sense to offer another day of rest now. We’ll await word on their availability and see how whatever roster assemblage takes the floor tonight fares against Golden State in a late one for us on the East Coast.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Golden State Warriors
When: 10:00 p.m. EST
Where: Chase Center, San Francisco, CA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA TV
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic