Updated: 1:22 p.m.

Welcome back, Sixers fans.

After a disappointing start to the season, the Sixers (34-21) hope to go on a run after the All-Star break starting tonight when they host the Nets (25-28).

Ben Simmons is listed as questionable with low back tightness. For the first time since having surgery on his left ring finger, Joel Embiid will no longer wear a splint and instead be taped.

Brooklyn will be without Kyrie Irving, who is dealing with right shoulder impingement and will see a specialist.

Here are three storylines to watch:

The evolution of Jo and Ben

The fit of Embiid and Simmons has dominated all other Sixers’ storylines this season and for good reason. This team will only go as far as the All-Star duo will take them.

Even their teammates know it all hinges on the play of their young stars.

“Those two are the guys that keep this thing moving and they have to really embrace each other and have that respect for each other’s games,” Tobias Harris said at practice Wednesday. “Their games are different, their games are different styles, but in a way they both do complement each other on the floor — I’ve said that since the day I got here and I truly believe it.

"When they are out there and they are both dominant, like the Clipper game, you can just see it’s like they played together since they were young kids. ... Those two, especially and most importantly, have to continue to embrace that night in and night out for us to be a successful team.”

 

Brett Brown ran more snug pick-and-roll than he ever had in the Sixers’ win over the Clippers last Tuesday. It was the most productive we’ve seen the pair execute the action using their size and skill. It may be a little tougher to run with a rim-protecting big like Jarrett Allen, but expect to see more of it if Simmons plays.

Sixth man Al Horford

Al Horford’s reaction to coming off the bench has been what you’d expect. He doesn’t appear to be thrilled about it, but he’s been a pro and understands that his role really won’t change all that much.

The goal is to have Horford and Embiid play less together, a move that should help both players offensively. Adding another shooter to the starting unit — whether it’s Furkan Korkmaz or Glenn Robinson III — should give Embiid more space. Playing Horford as a true five allows him to showcase more of the skillset that’s made him a five-time All-Star.

You should still expect Embiid and Horford to close games together because of how dominant they can be defensively. The Sixers’ original starting lineup is tied for second in the NBA in terms of defensive rating among five-man lineups that have played at least 200 minutes.

Containing the Nets

This Brooklyn team has given the Sixers problems in the regular season the last couple years. Even without their superstars in Irving and Kevin Durant, the Nets have multiple players that can take people off the dribble and cause problems.

Luckily for the Sixers, they are better equipped to handle the likes of Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert than they have been in the past. Simmons is playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level this season. The team has also gotten strong perimeter defense out of Josh Richardson, rookie Matisse Thybulle and will have another option in the newcomer Robinson.

Dinwiddie and LeVert can be dangerous if you’re not prepared, but if the Sixers play defense like they’re capable, they should be able to smother that guard duo.

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