After losing their home opener to the Milwaukee Bucks, 90-88, on Thursday night, the Philadelphia 76ers are back at home against the visiting San Antonio Spurs. The Sixers will be looking for their first win of the season against a Spurs team that no one really expects much out of this season.
After two big games to open the season against the Celtics and Bucks, the Sixers get a little bit of a breather when playing the Spurs, although any team coached by the great Greg Popovich can’t be underestimated.
Spurs (1-1) vs. Sixers (0-2) Game Info
When: Saturday, October 22nd
Tipoff: 6:00 pm
Where: Philadelphia, PA | Wells Fargo Center
How to watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA TV
The Return of Brett Brown
Tonight’s game marks the return of former Sixers head coach Brett Brown, who lead the team through the Process years into the perennial playoff performer they are today. It may not have ended the way many had hoped, but Brown coached the second-most games in Sixers history and was responsible for the development of fan favorites like Robert Covington, Richaun Holmes, and TJ McConnell.
In his return tonight, Brown should be celebrated before his team is handed the loss.
Keys to the Game
What the Sixers have going well for them is that James Harden looks to be back in great shape and is averaging 33 points per game to go along with eight assists and eight rebounds over the first two games.
What has been lacking is the ball movement, as the team has allowed Harden to really work his isolation game. This could be a smart move to let the league know that he’s back and that, at any time, he can turn it on. More than likely, it’s just that he’s out to show he’s still got it and that the rest of the team wasn’t playing that well.
In order for the Sixers to win and continue to do so, Joel Embiid has to start playing like the dominant center he has been the past two years. Word came out that Embiid had battled Plantar Fasciitis over the summer and that he needs to get his legs under him, but that doesn’t excuse the five turnovers per game he’s averaged in the first two games.
The Sixers need to have Embiid dominate the low post to reach their expected heights. A dominant post threat would allow players like Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and even Tobias Harris to get open looks on the outside or have the defense drop down and give those three an easy route to drive the basket.
The problem that the Sixers have, that’s been noted over the past two seasons and is glaring to open the year, is Doc Rivers. His coaching, or lack thereof, has hurt the squad to open the season.
PJ Tucker, at 37 years old, was brought in for toughness, defense, and corner shooting. Rivers has played Tucker 33 and 39 minutes in the opening two games. The only 37-year old that should be getting those kinds of minutes is playing for the Lakers. At this point in his career, Tucker, while starting, shouldn’t be getting more than 26 minutes per game in order for him to be effective.
The team brought in Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, and Danuel House Jr. for added depth, defense, and scoring. This year’s version of the Sixers seems to be the deepest roster they’ve had in years, yet Rivers has played Matisse Thybulle for a total of just 43 seconds over the first two games.
It’s unacceptable when you look at the Celtics and Bucks running all over the Sixers. Melton, who defensively is close to Thybulle, also adds you scoring around 13 points per game, which he’s not getting if he’s only playing 20 minutes per game. If the trend continues with Rivers overplaying older veterans over younger, talented players, he may not remain the head coach for the rest of the season.
Players like Paul Reed, Melton, Thybulle, and even Shake Milton, should be able to take up minutes on the second unit, which would give the starters a rest and give the team a more complete game. Instead, they’re sitting on the bench while Rivers is running the others into the ground.
The Sixers need to get back into their game. Embiid will be facing up against Spurs center Jakob Poeltl, who, at 7’1″ and 280 lbs, will be one of the guys that physically can match up with Embiid in the low post. While Poeltl has averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds over the first two games, he’ll have his hands full with Embiid and should get a healthy dose of Joel in the low post.
Other than Poeltl, the Spurs have players like leading scorer, Keldon Johnson, shooting guard Devin Vassell, and point guard Tre Jones, which will cause some issues with their movement and athleticism while being coached by Popovich.
This won’t be an easy game for the Sixers, but it should be one that they walk away from with a win and get them moving in the right direction. The NBA season is a long one, and two games aren’t the reason for panic. Should the team and its “coach” continue to play and operate as they have, though, the championship aspirations of the off-season can quickly go by the wayside.
Look for Embiid to bounce back with a strong performance and the combination of Maxey and Harden to his close to 60 combined points. The Sixers should be able to get away with a 112-96 victory at home.