The Tip-Off: Sixers kick off their return against Pacers

Actual NBA basketball is back, ladies and gentlemen. After nearly five months of not having a meaningful game, the Sixers will take the court in Orlando’s bubble to kick off their last eight regular-season games. Both the Sixers and Pacers have officially clinched playoff spots, so these games will solely be for seeding.

The Philadelphia 76ers (39-26) will take on the Indiana Pacers (39-26) Saturday night at 7 p.m. Coverage will begin at 6:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia, with radio coverage on 97.5 the Fantatic.

Currently, the Sixers are 5.5 point favorites, with the over/under set at 213.

Familiar Foes

Prior to the break, the Sixers and Pacers were able to get three of their scheduled four games in. For the season, the Pacers hold a 2-1 edge in the series. All-Star center Joel Embiid did not play in either of the Sixers’ losses, however.

Flashing back to what feels like an eternity ago, the Sixers and Pacers kicked off their season series at Wells Fargo Center on November 30th. The Sixers captured their only win of the series, topping Indiana 119-116. Joel Embiid totaled 32 points in 33 minutes of work, displaying his dominance.

However, Indiana would get the best of the Sixers on New Years Eve and a few weeks later on January 13, winning 115-97 and 101-95, respectively. As mentioned above, Embiid missed both of these contests, and Matisse Thybulle missed game one as well. With a fully healthy lineup, the Sixers look to coast past Indiana on Saturday night.

New Look Lineups

Sixers

Philadelphia displayed their new starting lineup in their three scrimmages. Al Horford will start on the bench, with Shake Milton starting at the one spot. This comes after months of fans and writers pleading for coach Brett Brown to make this, and Horford handled this move as a pro. With the depth the Sixers now have, the whole idea of being “built for the playoffs” looks to be much more accurate. Matisse Thybulle looks to have earned himself a spot off the bench for the playoff rotation as well, as well as proved to be a Youtube star.

Pacers

The Pacers will be without All-Star Domantas Sabonis on Saturday, as he left the bubble to seek medical treatment for plantar fasciitis is out “indefinitely.” With Sabonis and rookie center Goga Bitadze both out, the Pacers have limited depth in the post. Myles Turner will draw the primary assignment of guarding Embiid but expect head coach Nate McMillan to mix up his coverages (and perhaps even play some zone) to try to keep Turner out of foul trouble. Something that could come as a surprise is the return of Victor Oladipo. After originally sounding like he is going to opt-out of the restart to not rush back into play after his ACL tear, Oladipo had a change of heart while at the bubble. His status is still not confirmed, but he did play in all three of the Pacers’ exhibition games.

Prediction

Both of these teams have officially clinched a playoff spot, but the next eight games will determine their seeding and first-round matchup. Indiana and Philadelphia are currently tied for fifth place in the Eastern Conference as well, adding to the importance of the game. The Pacers currently have the 2-1 series edge, giving them the tiebreaker as of now. If the Sixers want to avoid giving Indiana the tiebreaker for good, they need to win this one.

Philadelphia is in a great spot to prove the haters wrong. With a lineup built like theirs, they could really turn into the team to beat in the playoffs. With a healthy Joel Embiid playing to his ceiling, and a new and shooting Ben Simmons, the Sixers have a great opportunity to display a new system, and open the floor up even more. Despite having the Sixers’ number this season, Joel Embiid alone gives the Sixers the edge in this game. Factor in the likely rust of Oladipo and the absence of Sabonis and the Sixers take this one.

Sixers win, 107-98.

Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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