Tristan Thompson

Sixers vs. Cavs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Cavs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Before they have a chance to get one back on the defending champion Raptors Sunday night, the Sixers have a game to play Saturday at Wells Fargo Center.

Here are the essentials for the matchup between the 15-7 Sixers and 5-16 Cavs.

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

And here are three storylines to watch:

It’s not rest this time

Joel Embiid has yet to have a “rest” game since saying load management is “BS.”

He’s out Saturday with a left hip contusion. A team source told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Embiid reported discomfort after the Sixers’ 119-113 loss Thursday to the Wizards and is being treated for the injury.

Embiid had played in 11 straight games since sitting the last game of a back-to-back on Nov. 13 in Orlando. 

After tonight, he’ll have played in 18 of the Sixers’ first 23 games, and 30.4 minutes per night. He played every one of the team’s first 23 games last year, averaging 34.6 minutes. 

Missing the ‘dot connector’ 

Before the season, Brett Brown called Josh Richardson the “mortar” for the Sixers. On Nov. 20, he labeled him a “dot connector.” 

The Sixers have managed a 5-1 mark in games Richardson has missed — he’s out again Saturday with right hamstring tightness — but they’ve been much worse with him off the floor. The team has a plus-10.6 net rating with Richardson on the court, minus-0.6 with him off it.

Much of that can be attributed to him being paired with Embiid, who has similar on-off numbers and tends to boost the net ratings of whoever he’s playing with, but that disparity does suggest Richardson’s value. 

At a minimum, splitting up the Richardson-Embiid pairing has hurt the Sixers. 

Drama with the Cavs 

Three anonymous players were quoted in a story in The Athletic by Shams Charania and Joe Vardon about new Cavs head coach John Beilein. The players voiced their frustration with, among other things, the former Michigan coach’s emphasis on fundamentals and extended film sessions. And, according to the report, “all the team’s screens, cuts, and pivots are named after wild animals. A curl is a 'polar bear' in John Beilein's system.” That reportedly hasn’t resonated with a few of the Cavs’ veteran players.

Several players then responded to the report and spoke out in support of Beilein, including Tristan Thompson. 

“Y’all better find them names ‘cause I’ll pull up on ‘em right now,” Thompson told reporters. “You can’t do that s---. At the end of the day if you’re going to build a culture and a family, you can’t have that Chatty Patty s--- going on. That s--- is whack to me.”

That wasn’t the only notable news involving the Cavs on Friday. The team is prepared to listen to offers for Kevin Love, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported. The five-time All-Star missed Cleveland's 93-87 loss Friday to the Magic because of an illness. 

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More on the Sixers

Sixers should try to be like the Cavs ... from 2013-14

Sixers should try to be like the Cavs ... from 2013-14

The Cavaliers are the team to beat in the East. It has been that way since LeBron James returned to Cleveland and their dominance doesn't look to be ending any time soon. 

The Cavs will kick off their third straight NBA Finals appearance against the Warriors on Thursday. No other team in the conference has pushed the defending champions to the brink of elimination, which lends itself to the question: Who will compete with the Cavs?

That then lends itself to another question I've heard several times among Sixers fans: When can the Sixers compete with the Cavs?

The Cavs are years — years — ahead of the Sixers. They have one of the best players of all-time in James, a young star in 25-year-old Kyrie Irving, All-Star Kevin Love to round out the trio, Tristan Thompson at the rim, as well as a bench stacked with winning veterans.

The success of the 2016-17 Cavaliers was a greatly unattainable feat for the Sixers (and the rest of the East) at this point.

The Sixers should try to follow the path of the Cavs, though … the 2013-14 Cavs. 

Let's go back three years ago to a time when James was in his final season with the Heat. The Cavs were struggling without their hometown hero, trying to rebuild from his departure to Miami. They were doing it with a combination of young and veteran players. Fifteen of the 21 players on the team that season had less than five years of NBA experience. (Sound familiar?) 

In that mix were Irving and Thompson, budding talents similar to what the Sixers have in Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. Irving was the first overall pick in 2011, Thompson was fourth in the same draft. Embiid was third in 2014, Simmons first in 2016. The Sixers also hold the third pick this year. 

Irving and Thompson now are standout players alongside James, but they spent their first three seasons developing with other vets around them. Players like Anderson Varejao and Luol Deng (both in their 10th seasons at the time), as well as Jarrett Jack and C.J. Miles (ninth seasons), provided another layer of learning for their young teammates, on and off the court. These weren't ride-the-bench-at-the-end-of-their-career type of veterans. They ranged in averaging 19-to-34 minutes per game.

This summer, the Sixers are looking to add to their veteran leaders. Jerryd Bayless is the only player under contract with more than five NBA seasons on his résumé. Unrestricted free agents like Miles, J.J. Redick and Patty Mills could fit that mentor role.

All the while, Irving and Thompson were honing their games in their third seasons. Irving led the team in scoring with 20.8 points, his second consecutive year of 20-plus points, and averaged over six assists for the first and only time in his career. 

Thompson put together his second straight season of nearly averaging a double-double (11.7 points, 9.2 rebounds). He barely trailed Varejao (9.7) for the team's leading rebounder. 

These numbers were jumps from Irving's 18.5 points, 5.4 assists and Thompson's 8.2 points, 6.5 boards as rookies.

The 2013-14 Cavs finished 33-49. It was far from a winning season, but an important one for their young players. In rebuilding a team, more than an above-.500 record matters. 

When James made the decision to return to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, the Cavs were better suited with the cast to surround him because Irving and Thompson had three years of experience behind them.

Next season is key to the growth of the Sixers. Their development as a unit was slowed this season when Simmons was sidelined in training camp and Embiid's rookie year was cut short at 31 games. The team has maintained it will not rush into a mega-money free-agent signing this summer just for the sake of spending available cap space. 

At this point, the young pieces need more experience to maximize the addition of a big-name player. The following season, though, they could be ready for it if they stay healthy and continue their progression, which showed potential in the 10-5 month of January. 

There will be plenty of free agents to target in the summer of 2018. Players including Paul George (player option), LaMarcus Aldridge (player option), Isaiah Thomas (unrestricted) and Andrew Wiggins (restricted) will be on the market, as of now. 

Sixers fans want to see a winning team. Understandable after the recent history of losing. When they tune in to watch the Cavs fight for their second straight NBA championship, they shouldn't wonder: How fast can the Sixers get to that point?

But rather: How can the Sixers take the steps necessary to get there?