Sixers

Sixers face serious defensive test against team that smoked them last month

Sixers

It’s an odd thing to note in light of the Sixers’ regular-season excellence at home since the 2017-18 campaign, but the team would drop below .500 at Wells Fargo Center with a loss Thursday night to the 17-7 Jazz.

The positive news is the Sixers finished a difficult stretch of 12 games that only included two in Philadelphia and improved to 14-11 with Wednesday’s victory in Charlotte. Here are the essentials for Sixers-Jazz: 

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

And here are three storylines to watch:

Quite the defensive test

Joel Embiid did not like how the Sixers played defense in their mini-series sweep of the Hornets.

“I thought for those two games we sucked defensively,” Embiid told Sixers team reporter Lauren Rosen, “so we’ve got to correct that, but a win is a win. But we can always get much better.”

A similar defensive showing Thursday may very well be problematic. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Jazz’s 118.6 offensive rating outside of garbage time is over four points better than the league’s No. 2 team, the Hawks. Utah ranks first in three-point frequency and fourth in three-point percentage.

Can’t go worse than last time, right? 

The Sixers kept Donovan Mitchell in check when they met the Jazz on Nov. 16, holding him to 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting, but there were essentially no bright spots from a 35-point loss without Embiid, Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle. The margin of defeat from that game is the Sixers’ worst of the season. 

 

Mitchell won’t be an easy cover. The two-time All-Star has averaged 33.8 points over his last four outings, shooting 58.1 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from three-point range. 

Both the Sixers and Utah are wrapping up a back-to-back, meaning there won’t be clarity on player availability until later in the day. We’ll see whether Embiid suits up in the Sixers' first back-to-back since his return from COVID-19. He’s been great during the team's winning streak, totaling 103 points, 35 rebounds and 15 assists over the three games. 

The Jazz beat the Timberwolves on Wednesday night for a fifth straight victory. Backup center Hassan Whiteside has been out the past two games with a glute injury. Rudy Gay plays at times as a small-ball center for Utah, though the team had to improvise against Minnesota after starter Rudy Gobert got into foul trouble, The Salt Lake Tribune’s Eric Walden writes. 

Maxey regaining his wind 

Tyrese Maxey came back Wednesday night following a game out with a non-COVID illness. He took a season-low five field goals and recorded six points, three assists and three turnovers in his 26 minutes. 

“I felt OK,” Maxey told reporters in Charlotte, per SixersWire’s Ky Carlin. “Still hard to breathe, but it was really good to be back out there. I feel like the sweat was good for me, but it was good to be back out there tonight.”

Maxey hasn’t scored over 20 points since he led the Sixers to a shorthanded win over the Kings on Nov. 22. He hasn’t shot better than 40 percent from the floor since two nights before that Sacramento victory in a 28-point performance against the Trail Blazers. 

In the larger context of this season, it’s clearly important for the Sixers and Maxey to figure out how he can still be a prominent (and efficient) part of the offense even when Embiid and Tobias Harris are consuming a good chunk of touches.