Sixers

Makeshift Hornets starter Ish Smith welcomed Maxey to NBA

Sixers

After a weekend without any games, the 12-11 Sixers will begin a mini-series Monday in Charlotte.

Here are the essentials for Game 1 against the the 14-11 Hornets, with Game 2 scheduled for Wednesday night: 

  • When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:15 p.m. 
  • Where: Spectrum Center 
  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 
  • Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app 

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Something to build on 

The Sixers haven’t managed a winning streak since six straight victories between Oct. 28 and Nov. 6.

They’ve got a golden opportunity to change that. The Hornets will be without their typical starting backcourt of LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier, as well as Mason Plumlee and Jalen McDaniels. All four players are in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. The Sixers swept last year’s regular-season series during Ball’s Rookie of the Year campaign, 3-0. 

Another reason for optimism is the Sixers’ win Friday night over the Hawks. The team held Atlanta to nine fourth-quarter points and survived a potential Danilo Gallinari game-winner to escape with a satisfying result. Momentum is fickle in the NBA, but it was the kind of game that can propel a team in the right direction.

Tobias Harris has been upgraded to questionable after missing the Hawks game with a non-COVID illness. 

A healthy dose of Ish Smith vs. Maxey 

The Hornets pulled off a win Sunday night over Atlanta without Ball, Rozier, Plumlee and McDaniels. Their starting point guard was Ish Smith, an extraordinarily well-traveled veteran who stopped in Philadelphia during the Process years. The 33-year-old posted 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

He’ll be opposed Monday by 21-year-old Tyrese Maxey, who’s not going to take Smith lightly. After an August summer league game, Maxey went out of his way to recall how Smith awakened him to the challenges of the NBA in the Sixers’ opener last season. 

 

“At the NBA level everybody’s good, everybody’s prepared,” Maxey said via Zoom. “I was guarding Ish Smith my first game. He comes in off the bench, runs right past me, makes a layup. (Head coach Doc Rivers) is screaming and all the coaches are yelling at me, and I’m like, ‘Dang, he’s just so good. He just came right at me.’”

Maxey and Smith later matched up during the Sixers’ first-round playoff series win over the Wizards. Expect the Sixers to encourage Maxey to seek his own shot Monday night against the 6-foot Smith. 

Update: Maxey (non-COVID illness) and Smith (health and safety protocols) have been ruled out Monday night.

Hornets still pose a threat 

The Sixers will be wary of Miles Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr., a duo that combined for 60 points on 22-for-32 shooting Sunday.

Bridges has taken a big step forward in his fourth season, averaging 20.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Even this shorthanded version of the Hornets has players with explosive scoring capability. The team ranks fifth in offensive rating and 26th in defensive rating, per Cleaning the Glass.

Charlotte’s game plan on Joel Embiid will presumably need to include frequent double teams. Nick Richards has started two of the past three games, though he hasn’t exceeded seven minutes in any of them. PJ Washington only stands 6-foot-7 but has mostly played at center.