The Sixers (23-13) are reeling, having lost three straight. The schedule doesn’t get any easier with a road matchup against the Rockets (23-11) Friday night.
Rookie Matisse Thybulle (right knee sprain, bruise) remains out. James Ennis (stomach illness) is also out. Since they're shorthanded on the wing, 2018 first-round pick Zhaire Smith will be with the team in Houston.
Here are tonight's essentials:
When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Toyota Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app
And here are three storylines to watch:
Talking about ‘accountability’
After the Sixers took it on the chin Tuesday in Indiana, Josh Richardson raised issues with the team’s “accountability” to reporters postgame. The team mostly agreed with that sentiment after practice Thursday.
Joel Embiid took it a step further.
“We just got to look at ourselves and see what we can do better individually,” Embiid said. “We gotta help each other, even if that means being outside of your comfort zone as far as to help the team win. Meaning that if you gotta space and shoot it, you gotta do it. We need everybody to buy into that. We'll be fine. We're gonna be fine.”
While that criticism seems pointed at a specific player, Embiid himself said that both he and Ben Simmons are not above reproach despite being the team’s All-Stars and longest-tenured players.
“Everybody has the freedom to do whatever they want,” Embiid said. “[Ben and I] are not entitled. I've been here the longest. Ben has been here. We're not entitled. The way I get better, I like people telling me what I don't do best, and I feel like every time, if I do something wrong, these guys let me know. Like I said, we're humble. We want to learn. We want to get better.”
Everyone that spoke Thursday said the message was positive. We’ll see if it helps tonight.
Thybulle and Ennis are out.
So what does Brett Brown do?
The guess here is he leans heavily on Furkan Korkmaz and second-year guard Shake Milton. There are fans that are anxious to see Smith and that’s understandable. The team clearly targeted him last year as a super bouncy guard that they viewed as a potential elite NBA defender.
The reality is that when the Sixers acquired Smith last year, he was seen as a long-term project. He was 19 years old and was playing as undersized power forward at Texas Tech. His broken foot followed by an allergic reaction that caused serious health issues made last season essentially a redshirt year. It’s clear Smith still has some development to go through.
With that said, who knows? Maybe Brown will look for a defensive spark and hope Smith can get out in transition for an explosive lob. Just don’t get your hopes up.
Hope you like offense
If you haven’t been keeping tabs on the rest of the NBA, the Rockets can score … like, a lot.
Houston is tied with Milwaukee for the NBA’s lead in points per game (119.4) and second in the league in offensive rating. Under head coach Mike D’Antoni, the Rockets play at a breakneck pace (second-highest pace in the NBA) and hunt threes aggressively (44.6 attempts a game).
They also lead the league in free throw attempts, largely thanks to James Harden. Harden is having one of the most prolific scoring seasons in NBA history, averaging a league-leading 38.2 points per game. Simmons will likely get the defensive assignment and that’s surely a matchup to watch.
The matchup of Richardson and Russell Westbrook should also be pretty darn entertaining. Richardson has been strong on the defensive end for the Sixers while Westbrook has fared better than most expected playing alongside Harden.
The Sixers’ pick-and-roll coverage will also be tested to its limits with center Clint Capela. Capela is a super athletic rim-running center that blocks shots and catches lobs. Embiid and Al Horford will have their hands full.
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