Sixers

Will healthy Sixers validate Rivers' belief?

Sixers

After sweeping their regular-season series against the Celtics last season, the Sixers will play Game 1 of 4 versus Boston in the 2021-22 campaign on Wednesday.

Here are the essentials for a meeting between two 11-10 teams: 

  • When: 7:30 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:45 p.m. 
  • Where: TD Garden 
  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
  • Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app 

And here are three storylines to watch: 

What will we learn from road trip?

The Sixers’ first-choice starters were excellent last year. The same has been true to begin this season, albeit in limited time on the floor.

Per Cleaning the Glass, the lineup of Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid has a plus-16.1 net rating outside of garbage time. That starting unit moved to 5-2 with Monday’s win over the Magic. The Sixers began strong, taking an early 16-point lead, but struggled against Orlando’s zone defense. Besides the final result and Curry’s 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting, there was almost nothing about the performance to like.

Before the game, head coach Doc Rivers insisted he’s still bullish on his team while recognizing the challenges of reintegrating key players. Harris, Embiid, Matisse Thybulle and Isaiah Joe are all back after being in the NBA’s health and safety protocols during November. Embiid and Harris each spoke about having experienced serious COVID-19 symptoms. 

“I’m going to keep saying it: I really like this team,” Rivers said. “We’ve had a lot of stuff with all these guys out, and now we’re a team trying to get back rhythm. And it’s going to take a little bit. But it’s coming. It’s coming quickly. You can see it, and I’ll be glad when it gets here.”

 

If the Sixers don’t collectively elevate their games soon the way Rivers projects, it might be a problem. Following this road trip with stops in Boston, Atlanta and Charlotte, the team will return home for matchups with the Jazz (14-7) and Warriors (18-3).

Which Tatum will Sixers get? 

Jayson Tatum is coming off of his worst shooting game of the season, a 2-for-16 outing in Boston’s victory over the Raptors.

That outing wasn’t entirely inconsistent with his beginning to the year, though. Tatum’s 50.1 true shooting percentage would be the worst of his career by far. 

Especially without Ben Simmons, would Rivers consider starting Thybulle to maximize the All-Defensive Team selection’s minutes on Tatum? Green is expected to be on a minutes restriction for “at least another week or two” as he returns from a left hamstring injury, according to Rivers, so Thybulle will likely play more than usual regardless. 

Rivers has said he envisions his starting five changing at times this season. 

“Danny does what he does, whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Rivers said. “When he starts, he provides spacing, shooting, defense. When Matisse starts, it’s more the defense. I thought the other night starting Matisse (against the Timberwolves) was a great example — looked great, but then they trapped Joel every time and we had one less guy. So you can go either way with it.”

Boston had listed Jaylen Brown as questionable for Wednesday's game with the designation of "return to competition reconditioning," but Celtics head coach Ime Udoka told reporters the team will have its full roster available. Brown has played in four games since returning from a right hamstring strain, averaging 25.3 minutes.

Familiar faces

The Sixers will see a few familiar faces from the 2019-20 team that was swept out of the playoffs by Boston in the NBA’s Disney World bubble.

Udoka, the lead defensive coach for that team, has replaced Brad Stevens. Al Horford is back in Boston and, at 35 years old, a starter. He’s played 28.7 minutes per contest, averaging 12.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Josh Richardson comes off the Celtics’ bench.

The 2019-20 season was a profoundly unpleasant one for the Sixers even before COVID-19 hit the NBA, Simmons suffered a season-ending left knee injury in Florida, and the Celtics eased past them into the second round. Not memories the Sixers want to relive, but a win over Horford, Richardson and Udoka would be a good start to the road trip.