3 storylines to watch for first Sixers-Hawks meeting since playoffs


No game-time decision Saturday night for Embiid.

The Sixers’ star center was upgraded from questionable to available late Saturday morning. Unsurprisingly, he’ll suit up for the Sixers’ first game against the Hawks since the team fell to Atlanta last postseason and play through the right knee soreness he’s dealt with early this campaign.

Ben Simmons (personal reasons) and Grant Riller (left knee injury recovery) are out for the Sixers. Atlanta’s Onyeka Okongwu is sidelined after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, while Bogdan Bogdanovic is probable with right ankle soreness. 

Here are the essentials for the matchup between the 3-2 Sixers and 3-2 Hawks: 

  • When: 7:30 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 p.m. 
  • Where: Wells Fargo Center 
  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 
  • Live stream: and the MyTeams app 

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Late-game troubles 

The Sixers’ issues maintaining leads have not disappeared.

In the Hawks series, they squandered a 2-1 series edge, an 18-point advantage in Game 4 and a 26-point lead in Game 5. Already this season, they’ve allowed 16-1 fourth-quarter runs to the Nets and Pistons. 

Simmons’ absence will be major if this game is tight down the stretch. Though the Sixers won’t have the same concerns about a player being intentionally fouled and hesitant to shoot, the team is missing its primary defender on Trae Young. Matisse Thybulle appears the favorite to draw that assignment during crunch time. 

Trending down at the foul line 

The Sixers ranked first and the Hawks second last year in free throw rate (outside of garbage time), according to Cleaning the Glass. 


Thus far, Atlanta is 28th and the Sixers are 11th. Young, one of the names most associated with the NBA’s new approach to officiating “overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves,” has only taken 4.4 foul shots per contest. 

Joel Embiid has piled up 25 free throws the past two games after attempting 18 over his first three.

“I like the rules,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said Thursday. “I’m not so sure if all our scorers like the rules. I’m not going to get on my soapbox here, but I don’t think it’s a rule change. I think they’re correctly calling the plays now. But I’ve never seen an adjustment that big. They’re really not calling a lot. I like it overall. The game time is faster.

“So I like it, but it’s going to take some adjusting, too. I think Joel has gotten guys up and tried to draw (fouls). Tobias (Harris) had one in the middle of the paint the other night. They’re not complaining as much, though, about it. So my guess is after it happens they’re realizing, I’ve got to do it better.”

Challenge for Drummond 

Yet again, it’s worth tracking whether the Sixers are able to hold their own during Embiid’s minutes on the bench. 

John Collins has been the Hawks’ main backup center (as well as the team’s starting power forward). He’s averaged 22.0 points on 75.6 percent shooting from the floor, 10.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists over his last three games. 

Collins is only 3 for 10 from three-point range on the season, but he’d likely be wise to force Andre Drummond away from the hoop and take open long-distance jumpers. Drummond does like being disruptive on the perimeter and taking risks in pursuit of turnovers, which could lead to some interesting moments. 

Without Okongwu, free-agent signing Gorgui Dieng is Atlanta’s other healthy big man. The 31-year-old has posted 4.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.