Game preview: Can the Sixers stay hot as the Celtics come to town?

CHICAGO, IL – FEBRUARY 06: Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21) waits for the play to set during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Chicago Bulls on February 6, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire)

The Boston Celtics are in town to take on the Philadelphia 76ers in what should be a tough game tonight. The Celtics and Sixers have been rivals for more years than most people can remember. Lately, that rivalry has taken another step in bitterness.

Celtics star, Jayson Tatum, will always be despised in Philly after the teams swapped picks and the Sixers chose Markelle Fultz at the top of the 2017 draft and the Celtics took Tatum. He’s grown into a true star in the league. Fultz, well, we all know how that ended.

For tonight’s game, the Celtics are coming to town having won nine of their last ten while the Sixers are 7-3 over the same time period. They’re two of the hottest teams in the league right now. The Celtics are currently 6th in the Eastern Conference and the Sixers are in fourth place after a victory over the Cavaliers on Saturday night. The Celtics are coming off a 105-95 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. Both teams will be rested but, the Sixers will be without newly acquired James Harden who will remain sidelined until after the All-Star break while recovering from a hamstring injury.

That should make this game a little easier for a hot and talented team like the Celtics but that’s not the case here. The Sixers are playing equally as well and they have something that the Celtics don’t – Joel Embiid. He’s turned into the Hulk this year and as his team of Avengers fights well, the Hulk just smashes.

Embiid is enjoying another MVP-type year but he’s managed to take this season to another level. When you think that it may be a tough game or that teams like the Bulls or Cavaliers will be able to shut down the Sixers, Embiid smashes. Against the second-place Cavaliers on Saturday night Embiid finished with a 40 point, 14 rebound, and 10 assist triple-double. Embiid has just dominated throughout this season, doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

The Celtics are one of the best defensive teams in the league within twelve feet and they’re going to need every bit of energy and hustle tonight as they’ve not faced this version of Embiid. The last time the teams met, on January 14th of this year, the Sixers won 111-99 as Embiid finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds. The Celtics defense is stellar but, they’re hoping that center Robert Williams will be able to contain Embiid. There’s not much hope in that formula as Williams is 6’8″ and 237 lbs. They’re going to need to double team Embiid and then it becomes tricky.

Embiid is averaging a career-high 4.5 assists per game this year and while he’s not on the level of Nikola Jokić, with his passing, he’s become more patient and his vision has greatly improved, providing open looks for players like Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris.

Speaking of Tyrese Maxey, the second-year guard has flourished in the absence of Ben Simmons and his ascension to the starting point-guard spot. Maxey is averaging 17 points per game to go along with 3.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists. The huge upside with Maxey starting is that he’s shooting around 48% from the floor and 40% on his three-point attempts. He also shoots 86% from the free-throw line, so when he uses his speed and athleticism to drive, it’s not as smart to foul him as it was when Simmons was running the show in Philly. Maxey has been a star in his own right this season and is looking to continue his run toward the top of the ladder for young players in the league.

The Celtics are pesky when forcing turnovers and they’re facing a Sixers team that is averaging the second-fewest turnovers in the league. The Sixers are also 11th in the league at forcing 7.7 turnovers per game. The way defensive master, Matisse Thybulle is playing lately, the Celtics will have a tough time against the Sixers. Thybulle should be the main defender on Jayson Tatum and that will be the key to victory for the Sixers. With Maxey guarding guard Jaylen Brown and keeping Thybulle on Tatum, the Sixers shouldn’t have a hard time with this greatly improved Celtics team.

The Sixers have been playing against the top teams in the conference. Combined with their genuine dislike for the Celtics, they should be as energized for this game as they were facing the second-place Cavaliers. That spells trouble for the Celtics. Coming into Philadelphia the Celtics have to be confident in their ability to shut down the Sixers, Avengers. But, the Sixers have a Hulk. It’s Embiids time to smash.

Betting spread: Total: Moneyline

Sixers +3 210 +125

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