The past five-game road trip saw Joel Embiid injure the meniscus in his left knee with an unknown timetable for return, the Sixers drop four of five games on the West Coast, and 10 p.m. ET starts on top of it? It’s been a rough go of things for Philadelphia (the team and the fans).
That being said, the show must go on, and the Sixers got a huge mental boost when Tyrese Maxey led the way with a career-high 51 points on Thursday night at the Utah Jazz to close out the road trip with a much-needed victory. Tobias Harris also stepped up in that contest with 28 points.
Not that it’s going to be a career-high every night, but high-level performances from that duo are going to be make-or-break for the Sixers as they enter into Embiid-less territory. We saw it on Thursday. Kelly Oubre Jr. was the only other Philadelphia player to score in double-digits. If the depth isn’t going to step it up, it’s going to fall on Maxey and Harris to carry a hell of a lot of weight. One fortunate note is that Nicholas Batum and Marcus Morris Sr. have both been listed as questionable after both missing Thursday’s game. Getting them back could help provide a boost for sure.
Regardless, the next challenge for the Sixers will be the Nets coming to South Philadelphia on Saturday evening. Now the Nets are a little bit banged up themselves. They will be without Dorian Finney-Smith, Day’ron Sharpe and Dariq Whitehead. Dennis Smith Jr. is questionable. The Nets were missing Ben Simmons, Finney-Smith and Sharpe on Wednesday and their defense was absolutely struggling throughout the lopsided loss to the Phoenix Suns.
One player they do expect to have back in the lineup, however, is Simmons. The former Sixer missed Wednesday’s contest with a left knee contusion, but is listed as probable for Saturday. Simmons returned this Monday night from a 38-game hiatus (nerve impingement in lower back) and had a decent night in the Nets’ rout of the Jazz, posting 10 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.
And you just know he comes into these Sixers matchups with a chip on his shoulder and will absolutely be looking to provide a boost to the Nets. Simmons might not be quite the scoring threat he once was years back, but he’s absolutely a playmaker for this Brooklyn offense, especially in transition, and is a defensive force as well alongside teammate Mikal Bridges. The duo are likely to be the biggest hinderance to the Sixers’ offensive rhythm.
Also, in addition to his stellar defense, Bridges is the main production piece in Brooklyn’s offense, averaging 21.9 points per game. He is solid both on and off the ball and, without Embiid’s rim protection, may take every opportunity to drive to the net. Bridges also isn’t afraid to let it fly from long distance, attempting 6.6 triples per game.
Bottom line is that the Sixers may have their hands full, and these games without Embiid are going to be tough. There’s just no two ways about it. The last time the Sixers met the Nets back in November 2023, Embiid put up 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in under 32 minutes on the floor in Philadelphia’s 121-99 victory. The Sixers are going to have to find a way to replace that lost production and defensive presence in the paint that helped slow the Nets down last outing.
That being said, this is a somewhat banged-up Nets squad that showed on Wednesday night that their defense can be exploited, especially when Simmons and Bridges are on the bench, the Sixers just have to take advantage of their opportunities.
The Sixers and Nets tip off in South Philadelphia at 6 p.m. ET.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets
When: 6:00 pm EST
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic