The shorthanded Sixers fought admirably against the Nuggets, but what should have been a marquee matchup between two top MVP candidates ended in a 116-111 loss for Philly while Joel Embiid and James Harden were both ruled out due to injury.
The Sixers now return home from a tough West Coast road trip with injuries and a three-game losing streak, looking to bounce back on Wednesday night with a win against the 37-39 Dallas Mavericks.
For now, both Harden (left achilles soreness) and Embiid (right calf tightness) have been officially listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game against Dallas. When speaking after Monday’s loss to Denver, Doc Rivers said that he’s optimistic Harden can return against the Mavs, but isn’t sure what Embiid’s status with his calf injury will be.
So if the Sixers at least have one of their top stars available, it sounds most likely that it’ll be Harden. In which case, be ready for more Paul Reed and (unfortunately) more Dewayne Dedmon, who’s coming off starting and playing 10 minutes against Denver. Embracing more small units anchored by Harden with P.J. Tucker at the 5 could also work well in spurts against this Mavs team.
The Mavs’ frontcourt could also be depleted, as Maxi Kleber is questionable due to right hamstring injury recovery.
While the Sixers may be hobbling back to Philadelphia, the Mavs aren’t exactly in great shape either. They’re 3-7 in their last 10 games, including a four-game losing streak featuring two losses to the hopeless 25-51 Hornets before a win against the Pacers on Monday.
Of course, there’s no question the Mavs’ offense is still dangerous. Since Kyrie’s debut, they’ve ranked ninth in the NBA in offensive rating (perhaps not as high as they’d like, but it’s a strong start for a new-look offense) and Irving has been exceptional in his role. He’s scoring efficiently, operating well off the ball, and passing effectively, averaging 26.3 points and 5.9 assists per game with a 62.9 true shooting percentage.
The Mavs’ star duo also powered them past the Sixers in their last matchup on Mar. 2, when Irving easily dropped 40 points on 15-of-22 shooting and Doncic added 42.
It’s Dallas’ defense that remains the issue, hurting them again during their current slump. During Irving’s time with the team so far, the Mavs have ranked a measly 22nd in defensive rating. It’s the main factor in them only having an 8-13 record in this span.
One of the Mavs’ primary defensive weaknesses has been defending the paint. For starters, they lost they best wing defender, Dorian Finney-Smith, when trading for Irving. Now, despite having Reggie Bullock and the hyper-athletic Josh Green (who’s had a very solid year all around), their perimeter rotation is shallower and shorter, while their bigs don’t offer high-level rim protection either. The Mavs simply can’t offer much resistance at the point of attack or adequately cover for any breakdowns or size mismatches when opponents get into the paint.
This is where Tyrese Maxey could shine on Wednesday, especially if he’s shouldering a larger offensive role in the absence of Harden or Embiid. Apart from watching De’Anthony Melton do his best defending Irving and Tucker and the Sixers’ other forwards trying to cover Doncic’s crafty strength off the dribble and stellar kick-out passes/pick-and-roll play, seeing how Maxey attacks downhill will be a key element of this contest to focus on. He’ll likely need a big night to keep the Sixers in this one if Embiid isn't back.
Fortunately for the Sixers, Maxey has been in fine form over the last month. Over his last 16 games, he’s averaged 23.4 points with red-hot shooting splits of 55.2/52.3/91.3. He’s coming off scoring 37 and 29, respectively, in the last two games as well.
If the Sixers are healthy and can do any more than last time to slow down Irving and Doncic (and/or have some better luck so those two don’t shoot 60-plus percent again), then they have a solid chance to bounce back with a win.
If Harden and/or Embiid fail to return, or look below 100 percent, this could be quite a test. We already saw what could happen in their last contest against the Mavs’ stars when things turn into an offensive shootout.
And with the top of the Eastern Conference standings growing even tighter following the Sixers’ latest skid (they’re now just one win ahead of the Cavaliers and further from stealing the second seed at three wins behind the Celtics), every result is increasingly important.
When: 7:30 pm EST, Wednesday, Mar. 29
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: ESPN, NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic