At 36-22, the Sixers are a half-game behind the Heat for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
They play the 16-41 Cavaliers Wednesday night in Cleveland, while Miami will host the Timberwolves.
Below are the essentials for tonight’s game.
When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app
Here are three storylines to watch:
‘Next man up’: Shake Milton
Shake Milton and Ben Simmons both are 23 years old and have 7-foot wingspans. Outside of that, the two don’t have much in common as players.
Monday night, Milton took Simmons’ place as the Sixers’ starting point guard and had seven points, six assists, a steal and a block in 26 minutes. After sliding into the lineup when Josh Richardson was out with a hamstring injury, it looks like he’s going to do the same thing with Simmons sidelined by a nerve impingement in his lower back.
“He’s really taken an incredibly unlikely path. … In general, he can guard better than I originally thought,” Brett Brown said Monday. “I think he’s got some legit point guard thinking in his psyche. I think he can guard multiple positions in the backcourt.”
The 54th pick in the 2018 draft, Milton has already experienced significant back, finger and knee injuries as a professional. A two-way player as a rookie, he earned an NBA contract by performing well in the G League and generally appearing like he belonged at the NBA level. This upcoming stretch without Simmons — however long it is — may very well be be the biggest opportunity he’s had.
“I just feel like it's my job to be ready,” he said. “Whatever the team wants me to do. I feel comfortable on the ball, I feel comfortable off the ball. If somebody goes down, you don't want to see injuries, but it's next man up and I just try to play the role.
No Embiid vs. Drummond matchup
We won't get a Joel Embiid vs. Andre Drummond matchup tonight, since the Cavs center is out with a left calf strain.
The two have a history of trash talk and entertaining duels, with Embiid holding a 6-1 advantage over Drummond and averaging 27.7 points and 10.3 rebounds against him.
Without Drummond, Cleveland will presumably start Tristan Thompson. The Cavs have still played Thompson 25.2 minutes per game off the bench since acquiring Drummond.
An easy schedule … in theory
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Sixers have the third-easiest remaining schedule in the NBA.
While that should make playing without Simmons somewhat less challenging, the thought of simply winning a road game sounds difficult right now. The Sixers haven’t done that since Jan. 20, when Simmons was brilliant against the Nets with a 34-point triple-double.
The team returns home for a game Thursday vs. the Knicks, then heads West for a four-game trip that begins with games against the Clippers and Lakers.
The Cavs are actually 2-1 since J.B. Bickerstaff took over for John Beilein as head coach, and they topped the Heat on Monday. That said, this is an opponent the Sixers should beat, regardless of where the game is being played.
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