Sixers vs. Celtics: Game preview for Eastern Conference showdown

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid dribbles during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia 76ers are home to finish their four-game season series against the visiting Boston Celtics, hoping to avoid being swept this season. After a tough loss on Sunday to the Bucks, 117-104, the Sixers are hoping to beat the Celtics and pick up a game, trying to close the gap on the 2nd place team in the Eastern Conference, with only four games left to play in the regular season.

Who: Boston Celtics (54-24) at Philadelphia 76ers (51-27)

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pa.

When: 8:00 pm EST.

Watch: TNT

Eye on the Sixers

The Sixers are returning home for the first of their last two regular season home games this season to take on the 2nd place Boston Celtics, who are 4-1 over their last five games. The Sixers are 2-3 over the same five games.

The Sixers are a formidable team when Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey are at the top of their games. The problem has been that Harden has battled an Achilles injury of late, and his shooting is nowhere near where it’s been on the season. After missing a few games, Harden seems to be back to his normal self the past two games, and the team is hoping that it keeps going forward as the regular season ends and the playoffs get ready to start. The Sixers are going to need the best of Harden if they’re to go anywhere in the playoffs.

Joel Embiid has continued his dominance throughout the season, yet, he’s still battling a leg injury. This is not the time of year for the Sixers to be without the MVP front-runner. There’s really no team in the league that can answer Embiid when he’s on the court, as he’s easily the most dominant center, as well as one of the most dominant players, in the league this season.

Guard Tyrese Maxey may be the most important of the three. That’s hard to understand having Harden and Embiid on the floor, but Maxey has continued to shine when paired with the two in the starting lineup. Over his last 10 games, Maxey is averaging 23.8 points per game on 54.4% shooting and he’s hitting on 51.3% of his three-point attempts.

After a poor shooting start to the season, Maxey has put himself up to 6th in the league in three-point shooting, and only Al Horford, with 308 attempts, is close to Maxey’s 365 out of those above him on the list. He’s playing as well, if not better than the end of last season after the Sixers acquired Harden.

The rest of the squad has been hit or miss, and that’s not a good sign at this stage of the season. All of the things that seemed to be going right for the Sixers a few weeks ago have gone to the wayside of late. The rotation has been poor, minutes staggered for no apparent reason, and the team is pushing out lineups at times that are getting crushed by the opposing teams.

Players like Georges Niang, Daniel House Jr., Shake Milton, Tobias Harris, and De’Anthony Melton have to start being more consistent if the Sixers are going to have any chance of going deep in the playoffs. The problem is that it starts with Head Coach Doc Rivers having to make the right choices at the right times as well as recognizing when the team needs to be adjusted, and that’s never been his strong suit.

Eye on the Celtics

The Celtics have been riding high to close the season and come to Philly having won four of their last five games. While they’ve beat up on teams like the Jazz, Wizards, and Spurs, mixed into the stretch was a 41-point domination of the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks.

For all of the hype and arguments over Embiid, Jokic, and Antetokounmpo and who’s going to be the MVP of the league, Celtics star Jason Tatum has been having an amazing year for the team. He is leading the Celtics with 30.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. He’s done it all and when needed for the Celtics this season as they look to get back to the NBA finals.

On his side has been Jaylen Brown, who’s averaged 26.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists, giving the Celtics one of the most formidable scoring duos in the league. Brown, though, for this game is questionable to play with lower back pain after only scoring 12 points in the win over the Jazz last Friday.

While Brown is a vital part of the starting unit, the Celtics aren’t without weapons. Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White, and Marcus Smart have all been playing well for the team, while Al Horford is second in the league in three-point shooting percentage for the season. Even Blake Griffin has been showing up of late, putting up 6 points against the Jazz but adding 12 rebounds and five assists.

What to look for tonight

This is a huge game for both teams. The Sixers are looking to get a game closer to second place in the Eastern Conference, a position that the Celtics are currently holding. They’re also looking to prevent Boston from seeing the season series. The Celtics will be looking to push the Sixers out of a chance for the second spot with a win tonight and move closer to the first-place Bucks with just four games to go.

Embiid, Harden, and Maxey will be up to the challenge for the Sixers as they’re looking to make a statement over the last four games that they’re ready for the playoffs. It’s the secondary players and second unit players that are the ones that really have to start shining. Everyone knows what to expect from the Sixers’ big three, but the rest of the squad is a complete question mark.

Without Brown in the lineup, if he can’t go, the Celtics will rely on Brogdon a bit more to take the Sixers’ defensive focus off of Tatum. If they hope to control the Sixers’ big three, they’re going to need good games from Griffin and Horford with a little of 7’2″ Luke Kornet mixed in to show some height against the Sixers’ front line.

The Sixers have to play their best; it’s as simple as that. Boston has had their number all season long, and in order to put some doubt in their minds heading into the playoffs, the team will need to get the most out of everyone on the floor at all times and minimize those small mistakes that have seemed to pile up on them of late.

Prediction: Sixers 121 – Celtics 118