Sixers take on red hot Cavaliers ahead of All-Star break

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) shoots over New York Knicks guard Evan Fournier (13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The Philadelphia 76ers host the Cleveland Cavaliers in their final game before the NBA’s All-Star festivities begin. A loss by Philly tonight would give the Cavs the tiebreaker over the Sixers for playoff positioning.

Sixers vs. Cavs game info

Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (38-22) at Philadelphia 76ers (37-19)

When: 7:30 PM EST

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia PA

Watch: ESPN, NBC Sports Philadelphia

For the Sixers

After losing to the Celtics last Wednesday, the Sixers have reeled off three straight wins against the Nets, Knicks, and Rockets. Center Joel Embiid has continued to play at an MVP level, currently averaging 33.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, and four assists per game while shooting 55% from the floor and 36% from three. Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen has played well against Embiid in the past, but this Embiid seems to be even more hungry than the past two years.

All-Star snub guard James Harden is coming in averaging 21.4 points on the year, which is still below his prime levels, but he’s contributing in other ways. Running the team as the floor general, you’d have to go back to the 2016/17 season to see when Harden has averaged more assists than this year. What’s important, going forward, is that Harden is shooting 38.8% from beyond the arc this season, his highest rate since he played for OKC in 2011. Harden, who seems to have regained his first step that has alluded him the past few years, is taking people off the dribble but can confidently step back and hit threes, which is causing problems for opposing defenses that were sagging off him a bit over the past two seasons.

While the starting lineup should still feature PJ Tucker and DeAnthony Melton, that experiment needs to stop. Tucker, averaging 3.3 points per game on the season, is listed as probable for tonight’s game with calf soreness, and should be given some time to rest and get healthy for the playoffs. He’s been a shell of the player that the team expected, not to his fault, as he’s battled several injuries on the season.

Melton, averaging 10.6 points on the season, is much more suited to the second unit, as he’s currently holding back Tyrese Maxey, who excels when playing on the floor with Harden and Embiid. (But, this isn’t any new news.) The good thing for Melton is that he’s been shooting 47.4% on three-pointers over his last ten games, and hopefully, that’s a sign of things to come.

For the Cavaliers

The Cavaliers are coming to Philly riding their own seven-game win streak. Their confidence is high, and they come in knowing that they blew out the Sixers back in November, 113-85. Although Harden and Maxey were both out with injuries, this Sixers team is much better than they were at that point in the season.

Donovan Mitchell, acquired in the off-season, is leading the team with 27.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game. He’s coming off a 41-point game against the Spurs on Monday but has only been averaging 21.6 points over his last ten games.

The Cavaliers feature a few good young players, and they’ve ridden their seven-game winning streak to 4th place in the Eastern Conference, just one game behind that 3rd place 76ers. Jarrett Allen is averaging 14.8 points and 9.9 rebounds on the season and giving the team a strong inside presence that most teams can’t put up against someone like Embiid. While only 6’9″, Allen weighs in close to 245 pounds, giving him the size and strength to present a good presence in the paint against the Sixers All-Star center.

Darius Garland has developed into a very good points guard and, paired with Mitch, is giving the Cavs 21.6 points per game to go along with 8.0 assists. He’s their second-leading scorer and shooting 41.4% on three-pointers on the season.

Evan Mobley is the player that the Sixers may have to look out for tonight. Currently averaging 15.6 points per game, he’s also bringing in 8.9 rebounds and could present a real problem for the Sixers if they allow Tucker to play extended minutes. If not, defending Mobley will fall to either Tobias Harris or newcomer Jalen McDaniels. McDaniels has only played two games with the Sixers, but tonight may be the night he sees extended minutes, having to work on using his size to contain Mobley.

What to expect

The Sixers come into the game as 2.5-point favorites, but the Cavaliers are completely healthy. Center Joel Embiid has been listed as questionable the past few games with foot soreness, and tonight is the same. While it’s likely that Embiid plays, that’s still a huge factor in the game. What the Sixers are going to want to do, is control Mitchell and Mobley while pushing the pace and spreading the floor. This is the game where Maxey could get himself close to 30 points, and a player like Georges Niang might see some good, open looks with the second unit and put up 14 points.

Prediction: Sixers 118 – Cavaliers 113