It is common knowledge Joel Embiid is not cleared to play games on back-to-back nights for the 76ers (6-4), who are seeking their first six-game winning streak since December 31, 2011, to January 10, 2012. But coach Brett Brown cited “load management” as the reason to hold his star center out of Tuesday night’s 104-97 victory at Utah to open this trek.
Dario Saric had his best game since entering the starting lineup, hitting 5 of 9 from 3-point range and scoring a season-high 25 points, and J. J. Redick added 8 of his 20 in a game-breaking third-quarter run. Despite the win, Brown still sees his young team as a work in progress with plenty of room to improve.
“To the guys’ credit, it’s a gutsy win,” he told The Associated Press before adding, “I leave here not elated at all. We foul too much, we turn the ball over too much, but we played. We were tough and we found a way to grind it out.”
Brown may have been laying groundwork to take Sacramento (2-8) seriously after they snapped a six-game skid Tuesday night by defeating Oklahoma City 94-86. Buddy Hield responded to coming off the bench to go 4 of 4 from beyond the arc and score 21 points as the Kings overcame a brutal first quarter in which they missed their first 11 shots and trailed 25-10 after 12 minutes.
Zach Randolph scored 18 points and did a credible job defending Carmelo Anthony to lead a Kings defensive effort that limited the Thunder to a season low in points and shooting (33.7 percent). But it also appears coach Dave Joerger likes having his best scorers come off the bench as Hield, rookie De’Aaron Fox and Justin Jackson combined for 47 points.
Three keys to the game
Successful Saric - The 6'10" inside-out forward gives the 76ers another perimeter threat without sacrificing size. Brown could put out a lineup in which Redick is the shortest player on the floor at 6'4" and the other four between 6'9" and 7'0". With Jerryd Bayless out indefinitely with a leg injury, this is Saric's opportunity to shine. He's averaged 14.2 points and 5.8 rebounds as a starter, which coincides with Philadelphia's win streak, and has made 15 of 30 from 3-point range in that span.
Buddy ball off the bench - It's an interesting decision to bring your best scorer off the bench, but to Hield's credit, he's responded like a professional since Joerger dropped him from the starting lineup. The second-year pro has averaged 17.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in his super-sub role, shooting 61.3 percent overall and 7 of 11 from 3-point range.
While Sacramento's scoring in terms of points is roughly the same at 93.0 per game the last three contests as opposed to their season mark of 93.8, the Kings have shot 47.5 percent since the switch, lifting their season mark to 44.0 percent.
Simmons' shot discipline - Say this much for the rookie, the season of watching NBA basketball in 2016/17 as he recovered from a foot injury provided an important lesson on maximizing his strengths.
Simmons has yet to take a 3-pointer in Philadelphia's half court offense, his six attempts from beyond the arc are all end-of-period heaves. He keeps getting to the rim and is shooting 65.8 percent on shots from five feet and closer, and 56.7 percent inside of 10 feet.
At some point, defenses will sag off him and make him beat them with a jump shot, but until that time comes, Simmons continues to make right decisions in terms of attacking the basket and running the offense with his 2.16 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Matchup to watch
Joel Embiid vs. Willie Cauley-Stein - Embiid has not hid his frustration about any scenario in which he's not on the court. Following the other occasion after sitting out this season, he set the tone early against the Detroit Pistons with nine first-quarter points and finished with 30 and 9 rebounds while shooting 11 of 15 in a 97-86 win. He will be challenged by Cauley-Stein, the only player Joerger has started all ten games in Sacramento's seemingly endless rotation of starting fives, yet the 7-footer is more of a glue guy as he's averaged 8.3 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 52.2 percent. It wouldn't be surprising if Embiid is covered by Randolph for a few possessions given how Embiid likes taking mid-range jumpers, but expect Simmons to make it a point to get him involved in the offense early and often.
Philadelphia 76ers projected starting lineup
PG - Ben Simmons | SG - J. J. Redick | C - Joel Embiid | SF - Randy Covington | PF - Dario Saric
Sacramento Kings projected starting lineup
PG - George Hill | SG - Garrett Temple | C - Willie Cauley-Stein | SF - Bogdan Bogdanovic | PF - Zach Randolph
Embiid has three double-doubles in his first eight games while pulling down at least nine rebounds seven times. He's been more assertive offensively on the road, scoring 23.3 points per game while shooting 57.4 percent in four contests.
Simmons has gone 12 of 35 in his last two games, but since he ticks off every category, the rookie is still a must-play as one of those games resulted in his second triple-double. He also has six blocks in his last two games as the team has made it a point to try to improve on that end of the court.
Redick is a career 42.9 percent shooter from 3-point range against the Kings, averaging 14.0 points in 26 lifetime matchups.
Randolph has posted five double-doubles in his last seven games against Philadelphia, averaging 15.0 points and 10.7 rebounds while being on the winning side of all seven. Point guard George Hill has also been steady versus the Sixers, totaling 13.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game in his last 14 games against them.
Trusting the process as it pertains to the odds has rewarded those who pick the 76ers this season as they've covered eight times and are 5-1 when playing on one day of rest. They have also won their last seven against the spread when playing a team with a losing home record and are 9-2 against the spread in their last 11 against sub-.500 teams. Philadelphia are 6.5-point favorites, and with the variety in their offensive sources, that feels like a strong pick against a Sacramento team still struggling to score. The over/under of 205 points could prove tricky because of the Kings since the 76ers had hit the over in their previous four games before Tuesday night's win. That may be a play to avoid since Sacramento have failed to reach the century mark their last five contests.
This game will be an interesting test of how mature the young Philadelphia 76ers are. Look past their struggles in recent years and realize they enter this game as the better team who should win and doing so would mean there is another building block for Brown to use going forward.
Embiid will be eager to contribute early after sitting out Tuesday night, and Simmons will be tasked with getting him involved. Yet for all the talk of how dominant Embiid is, the 76ers have quietly become a solid 3-point shooting team. They are fourth in the league in 3-point percentage (39.9) and fifth in 3-pointers made (123) as Embiid's low-post presence and Simmons' ability to drive and dish create those open looks.
Sacramento are still a work in progress, but Joerger seems content with his defense-first starting five before letting his triumvirate of Hield, Fox and Jackson run wild at a faster pace to score points in bunches. While it has resulted in better shots for the Kings, it has yet to create a noticeable bump in points. That is a problem given the 76ers average 107.3 points and the Kings are last in the NBA at 93.8 per game.
It likely won't be pretty, but look for the 76ers to do enough to get by with a 105-96 victory.
This game will be televised locally on NBC Sports California and NBC Sports +. Tip-off time is 10:30 pm EST.
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