The Sixers have no time to rest following the thrilling overtime victory as tonight they face the Hornets in Charlette once again. The previous game required a heroic effort from Joel Embiid to secure the victory despite the Hornets coming in shorthanded.
From the opening tip, it was clear the Hornets had more energy, and this will need to change for the Sixers to stay on the winning side of things tonight. It is always fun to watch Joel Embiid play up to his potential, but it should not be necessary against a Hornets team without their two best guards and starting center.
The Return of Maxey?
When searching for energy on the roster, Tyrese Maxey is the right place to look. The second-year guard missed the previous game due to a non-Covid illness but appears on target to return tonight. It is important to note that he was with the rest of the Sixers team during this morning’s shootaround, which is a very positive sign. The Kentucky product is still officially listed as questionable on the injury report at the moment.
It is great to see the impact that Maxey has brought to this Sixers team, but it is also somewhat concerning how reliant they are on the 21-year-old guard. The lack of ball-handling on the team has been evident all season, and this forced Joel Embiid to take on even more responsibility offensively. Embiid led the team in passing in Wednesday’s game with 7 assists, and no other member of the Sixers registered more than 4. While Maxey’s assist numbers have not been through the roof, adding a ball-handler back into the lineup who can run the offense will provide a much-needed change-of-pace.
Stopping the Hornets
With LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier out due to Covid protocols, there is much more offensive responsibility thrown on the remaining roster. It was Kelly Oubre Jr. who answered the call on Monday by scoring a team-high 35 points and adding 6 three-pointers. Oubre is never afraid to let it fly, and the Sixers made the mistake of allowing him to get going early on in the previous matchup.
The Sixers must also be conscious of a potential bounce-back game from Miles Bridges and Gordon Hayward, who shot a combined 2-14 from beyond the arc in the previous matchup. Tobias Harris did an impressive job matching up with Bridges, but this effort must continue. The Michigan State product has had an excellent year and is firmly in the conversation for the Most Improved Player award. Even though the roster is shorthanded, the Hornets are loaded with exciting young talent and cannot be taken lightly.
Two straight victories have allowed the Sixers to climb up to Sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 13-11. The Hornets sit right behind them in 7th place, and another win tonight will help the Sixers climb back closer to a more respectable spot in the standings. As evidence of the previous game, the Hornets are no easy victory, but the Sixers must take advantage of the opportunity as (for once) they are the healthier team.
Looking ahead at the Sixers schedule, they have showdowns with the Jazz, Warriors, Grizzlies, Heat, and Nets in the next five games. These tough matchups make securing a win tonight even more important for Philadelphia. The Sixers needed to go on a run after their record dropped to 11-11 following the streak of shorthanded losses. Winning a third straight game and bringing that record to 14-11 would go a long way to increasing confidence, and that opportunity is at hand tonight.