For the second straight night, the Philadelphia 76ers, with no room to move up or down the seed line, face a Southeast Division opponent battling for postseason seeding. After being trounced by the Miami Heat on Thursday night, the 52-28 Sixers step into State Farm Arena for a duel with the 41-39 Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks are currently the No. 8 seed, one game ahead of the 40-40 Toronto Raptors. They hold the tiebreaker over Toronto, so they’d have to lose both of their remaining contests to drop to ninth. Atlanta cannot catch the No. 7 Heat because they lost the season series, 3-1, and are two games back with two to play.
Philadelphia is fifth in net rating (plus-4.0), fourth in offensive rating (118.3) and 10th in defensive rating (114.3). The Hawks are 18th in net rating (plus-0.2), ninth in offensive rating (116.4) and 21st in defensive rating (116.2). Since head coach Quin Snyder took over 19 games ago, they’re 10-9, 13th in net rating (plus-2.3), fifth in offensive rating (121.7) and 23rd in defensive rating (119.4).
De’Andre Hunter (left knee bone bruise and muscle strain) is questionable for the Hawks. Following Philadelphia’s loss to Miami on Thursday, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Joel Embiid would not be playing or traveling to Atlanta for the second leg of this back-to-back. The Sixers have not submitted an injury report yet, but whenever they do, I imagine Embiid will be far from the only prominent name included.
Tyrese Maxey sat out Thursday because of neck stiffness. Other than missing a Dec. 31 game, which was a back-to-back and the day after his return from a left foot fracture, he’d not been out of the lineup since rejoining the rotation on Dec. 30. He’s probably due for some more extended rest, especially while dealing with neck stiffness. P.J. Tucker (right calf tightness) and De’Anthony Melton (right calf tightness) were also listed as questionable before ultimately playing Thursday.
Aside from Melton, the Sixers’ bench rotation is pretty muddied. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of Georges Niang, Danuel House Jr., Jalen McDaniels, Shake Milton and Paul Reed carve out a significant role during the playoffs. Starting Friday, these next two games could be a chance for head coach Doc Rivers to gather more data about them and who fits best against which matchups. I’d wager that’s partially how he’ll use these games, as well as giving the likes of Embiid, Maxey, Melton, Tucker, James Harden and Tobias Harris a bit of time off.
Milton notched 11 points and dished out 10 dimes on Thursday. McDaniels scored 10 points and took eight shots to tie his second-most field goal attempts since joining Philadelphia two months ago. He also plucked four steals. Milton might be in for a couple voluminous and prolific outings as a lead ball-handler to cap the regular season.
I hope the Kork is popped early and often against Atlanta. Let him set a record for most three-point fouls drawn in a game; that pump fake is a work of art. Can we see some jumbo lineups with two (or three?) of Reed, Montrezl Harrell and Dewayne Dedmon on the floor together? Reignite the Niang-Harrell two-man game. Will Rivers sic Jaden Springer, fresh off a G League title and Finals MVP, on Trae Young for stretches?
Embrace all and any of the funk that is the final week of the NBA regular season, please.
When: 7:30 pm EST, Friday, April 7
Where: State Farm Arena, Atlanta, GA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic