Sixers look bounce back against the Suns in Phoenix

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 Philadelphia 76ers are heading into Phoenix after a tough loss on Friday night to the Golden State Warriors. The team is looking for its 50th win on the season and trying to keep their current 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. The Suns are returning home after their own disheartening loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday night as they look to move up to the 4th seed in the Western Conference.

Sixers vs. Suns game info

Who: Philadelphia 76ers (49-24) at Phoenix Suns (38-35)

When: 10:00 pm EST

Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Eye on the Sixers

The Sixers are coming into the Suns game having lost Friday night to the Warriors, 120-112, in which the Sixers surrendered an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter. It all happened despite center Joel Embiid scoring 46 points and adding nine rebounds and eight assists. The big issue is that just two days after injuring his calf on Wednesday against the Bulls and subsequently missing the second half of that game, Embiid was on the court for 38 minutes. Now is not the time to overwork the MVP frontrunner as the team heads for the playoffs.

Speaking of overworked, guard James Harden should be out again, as he’s battling an Achilles injury suffered last week. Harden, who’s averaging 20.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, and a league-leading 10.8 assists per game, should be sitting the rest of the regular season. He’s battled leg injuries over the past couple of years and missed a month earlier in the season with a foot injury. The Sixers playoffs are secure; it’s just seeding now, so having a healthy Harden for the playoffs should be the priority.

What the team needs against the Suns is a complete defensive effort from the whole team, not just Joel Embiid. Players like PJ Tucker, DeAnthony Melton, and Tyrese Maxey need to step up and prevent the Suns from getting open three-point looks and driving to the basket. The playoffs come down to defense, and the Sixers, while they’ve been a good team throughout the season, need to be better. It’s obvious that they can score and have five players that can give you over 20 points in a game, with three of them, Maxey, Embiid, and Harden, able to get you over 30 if needed.

The rotation, especially as the season winds down, needs to be tightened up. With Harden missing time, Shake Milton should see more time in the point guard role, where he’s better suited, and allows for Tyrese Maxey to play strictly as the shooting guard, where he thrives. Paul Reed should see more minutes with faster, athletic teams where his energy can be utilized. At the same time, players like Georges Niang, Jalen McDaniels, and Daniel House Jr. need to show up on a more consistent basis.

If the Sixers aren’t able to get things together, starting in Phoenix, then it’s going to be a long final two weeks of the season and a very short playoffs.

Eye on the Suns

The Suns are coming back home to take on the Sixers after concluding a road trip in Sacramento with a 135-127 loss. They finished 0-3 on the road trip and have lost six of their last seven games. The Suns were hoping to take a huge leap in the Western Conference when they acquired Kevin Durant at the trade deadline. They started 3-0 with Durant in the lineup, and then he sprained his ankle. Since then, the Suns are 2-6.

What the Suns do have is Devon Booker and Chris Paul. Those two are a very hard combination to deal with on any given night. Booker is pacing the Suns with 28.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game, while Paul is averaging 13.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 9.1 assists per game.

Devon Booker is the key for the Suns right now. If he can get hot and get some spacing, Paul will be able to find him, and Booker, as he’s shown with 32 points against the Kings, can really light it up for the team. He’ll need to have a great game to counter what the Sixers will throw at him in terms of DeAnthony Melton.

Chris Paul is winding down a Hall of Fame career and is averaging fewer points than he has at any time in his career. His shooting percentage is one of the lowest of his career. What he is doing, though, is shooting 36% on his three-point attempts, and his 9.1 assists per game are good enough for 5th in the whole league.

What’s surprising at this age is he’s averaging 1.6 steals per game, good for a tie for 6th place in the league. It’s a testament to the player he is that, even at his age and with an obvious slow down to his physical abilities, Paul is a smart player who knows when and how to make good defensive plays.

The Suns will be without DeAndre Ayton, who’s missed the past two games with a hip injury. Ayton has the size, at 7’0″ and 270 lbs., to provide a big body against Joel Embiid in the low post. Without him, the Suns will rely on Bismarck Biyombo and Jock Landale to try to stop the locomotive that is Embiid. Ayton gives the team size as well as averaging 18.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, which will be missed against the Sixers.

What to look for

This game should be a tight one, right down to the final buzzer and maybe even into overtime. If the Sixers have Embiid on the court and head coach Doc Rivers can actually use his players in the right rotation, the Sixers should be able to come out on top.

Both teams have traveled from Northern California after playing on Friday night, and they’re both reeling from close losses, so the energy for the game will be high as they’re both playing for critical positions in their respective conferences.

Ultimately, this game will come down to players like Tobias Harris, DeAnthony Melton, and Shake Milton against TJ Warren, Jock Landale, and Terrence Ross. Whichever team is able to get the most out of its “secondary” players will come out on top.

Prediction: (Embiid playing) Sixers 121 – Suns 114

(Embiid Out) Sixers 112 – Suns 119