Sixers take on Bucks in Milwaukee for 2023-24 season opener

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

After an off-season that somehow simultaneously felt both unbearably long and incredibly short, the Sixers are back in action tonight for their season opener against conference rival, the Milwaukee Bucks. With both teams undergoing a disappointing finish in last year’s playoffs and subsequently replacing their head coaches and shaking up their lineups in the offseason, the matchup promises to be one to watch. Here’s a rundown of how to watch and what to expect.

Date and Time: Thursday, Oct. 26; 7:30 pm EST

Where to Watch: TNT or NBA TV

Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI

Injuries Report

Philadelphia 76ers forward P.J. Tucker, left, talks with guard James Harden during the NBA basketball team’s practice on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023, in Fort Collins, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

James Harden is reported to be OUT tonight for the Sixers after missing nearly a week of scheduled practices amid his ongoing offseason drama and trade request. According to new head coach Nick Nurse, he’ll instead be working out with the Delaware Blue Coats team and two-way players while the rest of the team travels to ramp up his conditioning. No other injuries were reported by either team.

Probable Starting Lineups

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, right, high fives Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard (0) before the start of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sarah Phipps)

Philadelphia 76ers: Tyrese Maxey, De’Anthony Melton, Tobias Harris, P.J. Tucker, Joel Embiid

Milwaukee Bucks: Damian Lillard, Malik Beasley, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez

What To Expect

Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) celebrates after a basket against the Boston Celtics during the second half of Game 5 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinals playoff series, Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Sixers face a fearsome competitor in Milwaukee with the new addition of future hall-of-famer Damian Lillard. If defenders feared the pick-and-roll pairing of Embiid and Harden last season, this new combo will be nothing short of nightmarish (not to mention that Embiid won’t have his partner in crime for the season opener).

The dominant partnership was on full display during the Bucks’ preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers when Lillard snagged the ball from under Christian Wood, raced up the court, and made a smooth pass to Giannis for an easy transition dunk. Both players are generationally dominant in their own right, and the league has every reason to be scared of what they can accomplish together.

That said, hope is far from lost for the Sixers. While the addition of Lillard is huge, the Bucks had to give up Jrue Holiday – a huge loss for their defense. With Brook Lopez sure to be on Embiid’s tail throughout the game, the loss of Holiday provides a major opening for Tyrese Maxey to take advantage of.

Maxey’s speed has always allowed him to get to the rim quickly, but he’s quietly become a major threat from beyond the arc. Last season, Maxey was third in the league on 3-point percentage, averaging nearly 2 made of 4 attempts per game. Even off the bench, fellow guard De’Anthony Melton averaged 39% from deep, attempting 5.2 three-pointers and making 1.8 per game. If this game is to be won, both guards, as well as P.J. Tucker, need to take – and make – lots of deep shots.

Outscoring Giannis and Dame will certainly prove to be tough, and to have a chance, the Sixers also need to be at their best defensively. Reigning MVP Joel Embiid is one of the few guys in the league who can stop Giannis in transition, so the block game will be critical for the Sixers.

Stopping Lillard will be much harder for the Sixers, but both P.J. Tucker and De’Anthony Melton could at least slow down the pick-and-roll a bit. Harris could theoretically limit Malik Beasley, as he tends to be better at defending smaller guards who aren’t necessarily the greatest passers. And Melton is the truest two-way guard who can hold his own defensively. Both he and Maxey have the skills to get under bigger players to steal the ball.

This matchup will require every member of the team to be at their very best, especially with the loss of Harden. As Sixers fans usher in the Nick Nurse era, we’ll see if they’re up to the challenge of facing their strongest opponents.