Opponent: Philadelphia 76ers
Starting Lineup: Ben Simmons – Josh Richardson – Tobias Harris – Mike Scott – Al Horford
Second Unit: Trey Burke – Furkan Korkmaz – Matisse Thybulle – James Ennis III – Norvel Pelle
Leading Scorer: Harris (19.4 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Simmons (7.5 RPG)
Leading Assists: Simmons (8.5 APG)
Biggest Strength: Defense/Length
The Sixers are built to be one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Simmons is an all-NBA caliber defender. Thybulle is as good as they come off the bench. Horford, despite showing his age a tad this season, is still smart and switchy at center. They are massive at every position. Even without Joel Embiid, this is a team that causes problems on the defensive end. They’re 7th in the NBA in scoring defense, but that doesn’t totally tell the story at how good they can be when they are engaged. Their length is like something we’ve never seen in the NBA.
Biggest Weakness: Spacing
The loss of Embiid hurts Philadelphia’s biggest strength, defense, but it helps their biggest weakness, spacing. The Embiid-Simmons combo has some major offensive flaws, as both of them need the ball in their hands and neither of them are good outside shooters. Embiid’s absence, which fully hands the keys over to Simmons, helps in this regard, but it doesn’t solve the issue completely. This team just lacks knockdown shooters. It’s not that Harris, Richardson and Horford are horrible shooters, but they don’t demand the respect as someone like J.J. Reddick did in the past. Korkmaz is the closest thing they have to a knockdown catch-and-shoot specialist, but he comes with his own issues. They can beat you in a lot of different ways, but shooting is normally not one of them.
The X-Factor: Horford
The biggest reason Philadelphia targeted Horford in free agency was so they could rest Embiid without taking a major step back at the center spot. With Embiid out for an extended period of time, this is Horford’s time to step up and show he was worth it. They need Horford to hit shots from deep, act as a secondary playmaker in the offense and anchor a defense that has the pieces to be one of the best in the league, even without Embiid. That’s a lot to ask for out of a 33-year-old.
Embiid’s injury swings this game in the Indiana Pacers’ direction. He has given them fits over the years. These teams have faced twice this year, once with Embiid and once without, and the difference was glaring. The Pacers’ strength, especially without Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo, is in their frontcourt. Embiid is a challenge on both ends of the court, so this is clearly a huge momentum change. However, the Sixers are no cakewalk without Embiid. Sometimes, they find a rhythm offensively with Simmons running the show with more spacing that they can’t find with both of them on the court. That happened when they knocked off the Boston Celtics last week. This is a big game for standings purposes, as the winner of this game will own fifth place in the Eastern Conference.