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Sixers at Mavericks: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Mavericks: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Joel Embiid-less Sixers (25-14) are in Dallas to take on Luka Doncic and the Mavericks (23-15) Friday night.

Embiid, who had successful surgery Friday to repair a torn radial collateral ligament of the fourth metacarpal on his left hand, will miss his second straight game. He'll be re-evaluated in 1-2 weeks, according to the team. The Mavs will be without Kristaps Porzingis (right knee soreness).

Here are the essentials:

When: 8:30 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 8 p.m.
Where: American Airlines Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Ben vs. Luka

This game loses a bit of luster with Embiid and Porzingis out and with Dallas coming off a beatdown from the Lakers Friday night, but this matchup should be fun.

Doncic has been one of the top players in the league and could get serious MVP consideration at just 20 years old. He’s third in the NBA in both scoring (29.4 points) and assists (8.9). He’s also grabbing 9.7 rebounds a game and leads the NBA with 11 triple-doubles.

Ben Simmons has played at a ridiculous level defensively this season. He leads the league in steals, is first in defensive loose balls recovered per game, fifth in defensive win shares and fifth in deflections per game. The players Simmons has guarded most by minutes this season are Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum, Bradley Beal, Pascal Siakam and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They’ve shot a combined 15 of 59 when guarded by Simmons. He also held James Harden to 3 of 9 on a night when the former MVP went for 44 points.

Doncic missed the Mavericks’ win in Philadelphia so we were deprived of this matchup. Let's hope we see a lot of it tonight.

In the zone?

Remember when the Sixers were dealing with issues with the zone and it was all anyone talked about? Welp, get ready for more zone tonight!

With Embiid out, maybe head coach Rick Carlisle won’t be as quick to deploy it, but he’s one of the few head coaches that will use the zone on occasion. The Sixers did improve against zone the more they saw of it, but their 117-98 loss to the Mavs was an ugly one. If Dallas goes to it, Brett Brown could go to a lineup with Simmons as a small-ball five surrounded by shooters — especially since Carlisle doesn't really use a true center outside of former Sixer Boban Marjanovic, who's averaging just 9.5 minutes a game.

It’s something worth keeping an eye on.

Struggles on the road

The Sixers are coming off a big win without Embiid against the Celtics Thursday, pushing their record at the Wells Fargo Center to 18-2. Now, they need to find a way to bring that same effort on the road where they’re just 7-12.

Meanwhile, the Mavericks have had nearly opposite splits, boasting a 12-5 record on the road and going just 11-10 at home.

Something will have to give Saturday night.

Like Boston was Thursday, Dallas is in the second game of a back-to-back. If the Mavs are hot early like the Celtics were, it’ll be important for the Sixers to weather the storm and chip away.

“We knew coming in [the Celtics] played [the night before],” Tobias Harris said, “so we knew a lot of the shots they were taking in the first half and making, it was going to come to a point where they were going to go through a little stretch where they missed a few of those. That’s when we really said we have to be able to get out in transition and run, and be efficient when we were in transition.”

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'It's a gift and a curse' — Steve Nash shares his thoughts on Ben Simmons

'It's a gift and a curse' — Steve Nash shares his thoughts on Ben Simmons

On the surface, Steve Nash and Ben Simmons don’t have a ton in common. 

Nash, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018, shot 42.8 percent from three-point range and 90.4 percent from the foul line in his NBA career. Simmons’ shooting is not a strength.

However, the two chatted Saturday night at Madison Square Garden after Simmons’ 21-point, eight-assist performance in the Sixers’ win over the Knicks (see observations).

Simmons told reporters he talked with Nash, a co-owner of the MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps FC, about soccer.

“He was such a great leader, a competitive spirit,” Simmons said. “Just watching highlights and some of his games, the way he played, he was just relentless. He played through anything." 

Nash sees a lot to admire in Simmons’ game, too. He said he thinks Simmons is worthy of being an All-Star for the second straight season.

Ben’s a generational talent. Crazy athlete, can play multiple positions on offense and defense. Obviously his glaring weakness is the shooting, but he’s so gifted that he can make up for it in other ways, and it’s about finding a way for him to be at his best for this group. And that’s a challenge for this club, is how do all the pieces fit together? Ben’s ability at both ends of the floor is unique and he’s a special, special player. 

“I wouldn’t put it past him to become a reliable shooter at some stage in his career, but he still does so many things at both ends of the floor that if you could find a way as an organization to promote that, you have an incredible, incredible piece. That is a huge challenge — how do all the pieces fit? … I think it’s something that Brett [Brown] and everyone are working through every day. It’s a gift and a curse.

Though his game isn’t much like Nash’s, Simmons said he can still take a lot from the 2004-05 NBA MVP. 

“He’s a legend, so definitely,” Simmons said. “I definitely want to talk to him and pick up things.”

Nash was asked whether Simmons can keep going as an infrequent jump shooter. 

“He can, in the right environment,” Nash said. “If he can figure out how to make some shots in some parts of the court, it can change everything. … He can do so many things. He can change positions four or five times in a game. That in itself is huge. So, how do you absorb that? That’s the challenge. Like I said, it’s a gift and a curse, and they’ll have to figure that out.”

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Tobias Harris trolls Ben Simmons before and after Sixers' win

Tobias Harris trolls Ben Simmons before and after Sixers' win

There are probably quite a few people that would like to be Ben Simmons.

Tobias Harris took that a step further before the Sixers game Saturday night against the Knicks, rocking Simmons' expensive looking neckwear.

The Sixers sweated out a win and snapped their six-game road losing streak at Madison Square Garden Saturday (see observations). Harris had a rough night, going 5 of 13 overall, but he did hit a huge three with 28.2 seconds left off a Simmons’ inbounds pass to give the Sixers a two-point lead.

“I was just trying to get it in,” Simmons told reporters postgame. “I don’t think we had any timeouts left, so I’m glad he came to the ball and put up a great shot. He made it look good.”

The chemistry between the two seems to be paying off on the court.

“He’s locked in,” Simmons said. “He’s been aggressive taking shots. We want him to keep shooting the ball and taking those open looks. He’s a great player."

Postgame, Harris went back into Simmons mode.

The team also had a little fun with Harris’ “Fresh Prince” impersonation.

Simmons had a big night, posting 20 points for the fourth straight game — the first time in his career he's done so. The duo of Harris and Simmons also combined for the biggest defensive play of the game, trapping Julius Randle and causing a turnover with 7.6 seconds left.

Even though Harris accidentally gave Simmons a smack in the face in his haste while celebrating.

The Sixers have won three games in a row and it looks like they’re having fun again.

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