Sixers hope to not get stung as Hornets come to town

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Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier, right, looks to pass around the defense of Philadelphia 76ers guard De’Anthony Melton, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Rusty Jones)

Here we go again. The Sixers are taking on the Charlotte Hornets in the second game of a seven-game homestead on Sunday night in Philadelphia.

The Hornets are coming into town after a big loss to the New York Knicks on Friday night, losing 121-102. Charlotte has lost four in a row to the Knicks, Nets, Clippers, and Bucks. Their last win was against the Wizards back on December 2nd.

Sixers (13-12) vs. Hornets (7-19) game info

When: Sunday, December 11th, 2022, 6:00 PM

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia

How to Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia

It’s not surprising that they’re losing; the team is playing without LaMelo Ball (Left Ankle Sprain, Gordon Hayward (Left Shoulder Fracture), and Dennis Smith Jr. (Left Ankle Sprain). Ball has only appeared in three games so far for the team, Hayward has played eleven, and now Smith will be missing his eighth game in a row.

Not good news for the team as they’ve been forced to run a lineup with Terry Rozier, Mason Plumlee, Kelly Oubre Jr., Jalen Williams, and PJ Washington. While those guys are playing well, it’s just not a level of talent that will last long in the league, as evidenced by their record and standing at 13th in the Eastern Conference.

So, this is just the type of game the Sixers lose. An injured and low-ranking team facing a Sixers team that’s coming off an overtime win on Friday night against the Los Angeles Lakers (133-123). The Sixers squandered a 16-point lead late in the fourth quarter and wound up getting a bit of luck in the overtime period to start their homestand off with a victory. Underestimating the Hornets is just the type of thing that Head Coach Doc Rivers seems to be doing. (See: Sixers vs. Rockets December 5th)

For the Sixers, they’re still missing star guard Tyrese Maxey, who’s still out with a left foot fracture. Georges Niang (right foot soreness) is probable, and guard Daniel House Jr. (Left foot laceration) is listed as questionable. So, the team, for the most part, will have a good bit of talent in the starting group as well as the reserves. Here’s where the issues start. (You all knew this was coming.)

James Harden missed a month with a tendon strain in his foot. Upon his return, Harden played 38 minutes in his first game back. That was a week ago. Joel Embiid missed four games with a foot sprain and played 35 minutes in his return. In the past two games, both overtime games, Harden is averaging 42.5 minutes per game. Embiid? 40.5 over the past two. Is this how you coach and manage the health of the two biggest stars of your team? (The answer is no.) PJ Tucker, the 37-year-old free agent signee, is averaging 37.5 minutes over the past two games and 28.8 minutes on the season.

Players like Paul Reed (11.8 MPG), Matisse Thybulle (11.5 MPG), Montrezl Harrell (11.6 MPG), and Georges Niang (19.7 MPG) seem to rarely be on the floor. Shake Milton (24.3 MPG) and DeAnthony Melton (29.5 MPG) have only seen their minutes increase due to the injuries to Harden and Tyrese Maxey. For a team that spent the off-season dealing with its lack of depth and bench scoring, the coach has chosen to run the starters into the ground.

Not so surprising is the emergence of Melton, who’s averaging 11.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists with his minutes increase. Where Melton has been a star is on defense, averaging 2.3 steals per game and really causing problems for opposing guards. He’s currently second in the NBA in steals per game, behind only O.G. Anunoby. Hopefully, even with the soon return of Maxey, Melton will continue to see good minutes.

The same goes for guard Shake Milton, who proved his value when the two starters went down with an injury. If anything, this should show the coach that he has the depth to allow his stars some rest time before he runs them all into the ground before the playoffs.

This Sixers team is hard to figure out this season. The games they should win, they’re finding ways to lose, and the coach is finding more and more excuses for the losses. (Does anyone remember, after an undefeated pre-season, that the Sixers lost their first three games of the season and four of the first five, the Rivers said that they just weren’t ready to win yet?)

The last two times these teams met, the Sixers lost 107-101 in Charlotte. Embiid, Harden, Maxey, and Thybulle all missed that game, so you would think that tonight will be much different with only Maxey still remaining out. I just don’t see it. This is that game where we hear about tired legs, missed opportunities, careless mistakes, and the lack of bench support from a coach that won’t let his bench players into the game.

The hope of the team and its fans is that the Sixers start to get it together and play like the team that everyone predicted to finish near the top of the Eastern Conference and make some progress in the playoffs. It’s just so hard to see that happening and not that hard to see how to fix it.

Prediction: Sixers 103 – Hornets 111