The Sixers, coming off an overtime loss to the Hawks while Joel Embiid was sidelined with left knee swelling, are in for another challenge on Friday night. They’re back at home against the 23-14 Sacramento Kings, who sit at 5th place in the Western Conference.
After some confusing updates about the state of Embiid’s knee, he’s now been ruled out for Friday and will miss his third straight game. For what it’s worth, Ramona Shelburne did provide some clarification with a further update to say that there’s no long-term concern with Embiid’s knee at the moment. He remains day-to-day.
Unfortunately, we’ll miss out on a fun matchup between the reigning MVP and Domantas Sabonis. The Kings’ All-Star center is having another impressive year with averages of 20.2 points, a league-leading 12.7 rebounds, and a career-high 7.7 assists per game with a 64.1 true shooting percentage. It’s going to be tough for Paul Reed to compete with Sabonis’ superior size and strength. Nick Nurse has been giving Mo Bamba more run recently (an average of 12.9 minutes over the last eight games) while Embiid has missed some time, but the combo of backup bigs will have an awfully hard time against Sabonis.
While Sabonis serves as a finishing and passing hub for the offense, though, and others like Malik Monk and Keegan Murray have upped their games this year, the main threat for the Sixers in this one is obviously De’Aaron Fox. As the Kings have jumped up the West with their dynamic offense, Fox has averaged a career-high 27.9 points per game on a 58.2 true shooting percentage.
He’s also drastically improved from three-point range. Fox has been comfortable taking more high-difficulty pull-ups and attempting a career-high 8.3 threes per game — a major increase in volume from his previous high of 5.5 attempts in 2020-21.
Fortunately for the Sixers, De’Anthony Melton has returned from three missed games due to back soreness at a good time. After returning against the Hawks, albeit with reduced playing time of only 21 minutes, Melton’s workload should increase soon enough.
The Sixers could certainly use his on-ball defense to help pester Fox’s creation from three and speedy drives to the rim. Beyond Melton and Tyrese Maxey defending at the point of attack, sharp interior rotations and timely rim protection will be key as Fox gets inside and works in pick-and-rolls and hand-offs with Sabonis. It will be interesting to see how often Nick Nurse looks to use some extra size (enter Nicolas Batum) against Fox to throw him off as well.
Watching two of the fastest players and most crafty drivers go head to head in this one with Fox vs. Maxey will be the most entertaining matchup to follow. Maxey’s continuing to assert himself as a clear All-Star and potential All-NBA Third Team player, and has had a couple of particularly high-scoring games recently when Embiid’s been sidelined.
After racking up 42 points in a fantastic showing to beat the Rockets on Dec. 29, Maxey dropped 35 points, eight rebounds, nine assists and four steals in Wednesday’s defeat in Atlanta.
Maxey may well continue cooking on Friday. Without Embiid, though, the Kings’ offense will be tough to slow down. Friday’s game is going to be quite a test for the shorthanded Sixers.
Who: Sacramento Kings vs. Philadelphia 76ers
When: 7:30 pm EST
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic