Sixers set to battle the Warriors as homestand continues

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, center, goes up for a shot against Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Well, we’re a third of the way through the NBA season, and the Philadelphia 76ers are sitting at 15-12, good enough for fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. They are a game behind the New Jersey Nets (who would have thought?) for fourth place. The Sixers have had injury issues that have plagued them throughout the start of the season, with their three stars, Joel EmbiidJames Harden, and Tyrese Maxey, all missing time, with Harden and Maxey missing extended time. Since Harden has returned to the lineup, the Sixers are 3-1, including winning their last three games to start their seven-game homestand.

Golden State Warriors (14-15) @ Philadelphia 76ers (15-12) Game Info

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pa.

When 7:30 pm EST

Watch: ESPN

During the homestand, center Joel Embiid has been an absolute beast. He’s averaging 40.7 points per game over the past three and is eligible for the scoring title, and currently leading the NBA in that category. James Harden is starting to find his rhythm while averaging 22.7 points and 14.3 assists over the same stretch. If the two of them can continue to play at this level, it will be hard to compete with the Sixers.

The key is always the rotation and depth, but forward Tobias Harris has been quietly been having a great season, accepting a “fourth-star” role as a shooter for the Sixers, averaging 17.0 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Harris has really helped, shooting 40.4% from three-pointers on the season. He’s stepped into the role, which keeps him out of the spotlight behind the big three on the team, and he’s helped keep the Sixers afloat.

The Warriors are coming in with a 2-12 record on the road. They have had back-to-back losses to the Bucks and Pacers and lost All-Star guard Steph Curry for a few weeks with a shoulder injury on Wednesday. The Warriors will also be without star Andrew Wiggins. This puts the team at a severe disadvantage. Klay ThompsonJordan Poole, and Draymond Green just don’t seem to have the same power without their other two stars on the court. While the team will play tough defense, and you can never count out Poole and Thompson on the offensive end, it doesn’t seem like a win is in the cards for the Warriors.

This game isn’t really an automatic win for the Sixers, but it shouldn’t be very hard if they stick to what’s been working. Keeping rising star De’Anthony Melton in the lineup and with extended minutes has been helping on both sides of the ball. Rotating the bench is a must, and we’ve all seen how head coach Doc Rivers handles that, so it won’t come as any surprise to see Harden up close to 40 minutes tonight and Embiid, if he’s not in fouls trouble, coming in around 36-38 minutes.

This has been working for the last three games for the Sixers, but it seems that it’s more Rivers’ idea to keep his job by running his starters into the ground so they can continue to win. It’s not a good formula to get through a whole sea.

Harden, at the start of the season, was in the top ten for minutes played, coming off two years of injury and pain. He was healthy coming into the season, and Rivers decided what was best was to run him into the ground until Harden hurt his foot and missed a month. Upon his return, Rivers stated that he would be on a minutes restriction. Someone didn’t tell Rivers what the word “restriction” means because Harden has averaged over 40 minutes per game since his return.

This isn’t a good idea for a guy who’s battled injuries and is now returning from a month-long foot injury. Yet, there’s Rivers trotting Harden out there for the whole game, it seems. Embiid has missed time as well and is still eating up minutes. Along with Harris and 37-year-old PJ Tucker, who’s close to 30 minutes a game, this is a recipe for disaster as the season goes forward. You would think the coach would have learned when watching Harden and Maxey both at the top of the league in minutes, godown with injuries that required at least four weeks out of the lineup, but he hasn’t.

For the immediate time, the process is working, and the Sixers have been winning and winning big on the current homestand. But it can’t and won’t last. The team is destined to lose at least one of its stars for a more extended time if it keeps up.

With the Warriors being depleted, this game should be set up to have the reserves play extended minutes, as it shouldn’t be a hard game for the Sixers. But, as we’ve seen, that doesn’t stop Rivers from running the team into the ground. We can all hold out hope that it changes, but it hasn’t and won’t. Hopefully, the GM, Daryl Morey, makes a move soon and follows the Phillies’ recipe to move someone like Sam Cassell up to the head coaching role and get the most out of the team.

Prediction: Sixers – 128 Warriors – 111