Game: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Philadelphia 76ers
Time: 7PM CST
Place: Chesapeake Arena, OKC
Counterpart: Liberty Ballers
1. No Jo
The 76ers will be without their superstar big man Joel Embiid and his primary backup and John Wick 3 star, Boban Marjanovic. That will change the tenor of the game on both ends of the floor. Embiid had an impressive 31 points on just 19 shots the last time these two teams faced off, and he’s one of the best defensive centers in the league. The Sixers allow just 105.8 points per 100 possessions when Embiid plays, which is in the 85th percentile in the league. When he’s off, the Sixers give up a horrifying 115 points per 100 possessions. Only Phoenix and Cleveland have worst defensive ratings for the season.
With Embiid out, the Sixers can try Johan Bolden, Amir Johnson, and Justin Patton at center. Bolden is probably the best option, but the Sixers defense with Bolden at center allows 117 points per 100 possessions. Johnson is even worse and is Carmelo Anthony-level washed up at this point, and Patton has spent most of this season in the G-league and already had his team option declined for next year. If any of these 3 are on the court, OKC’s ball handlers need to look to attack the rim mercilessly and run these sub-par bigs through a lot of pick and roll.
2. Defensive matchups
The Sixers could choose to counter by playing lineups where 3 point shooter Mike Scott serves as the center, or go ultra small and have Ben Simmons, nominally a point guard but in truth a player who exists outside of traditional position designations, play center.
Either of these alignments could give Oklahoma City trouble. Scott, an excellent 3 point shooter, will drag Steven Adams out of the paint, where he’s most effective as a rim protector and box out artist. If Scott is at center, the Sixers can play lineups where Simmons is surrounded by four great 3 point shooters- Scott, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and JJ Redick.
With no Embiid, we’ll get to see what Simmons could look like as a team’s undisputed #1 option. The Thunder will start with Russell Westbrook guarding him. Simmons has a huge height advantage on Russ and might look to take him into the post often, especially if the Sixers floor spacers draw away help defense. How Russ handles that battle with Simmons will be an early test for OKC. The Thunder have other players closer to Simmons size, like Jerami Grant and Markieef Morris they can try on Simmons instead, but that messes up the match-ups elsewhere, especially since Butler and Harris are both capable ball handlers in their own right.
Other matchups to watch: How OKC fares chasing Redick around the court (Redick had 22 points on 13 shots in the last match-up against OKC, and could’ve had more). Last time around Terrence Ferguson was tasked with chasing down Redick, but with George gone, it may fall to Ferguson to defend Butler and Dennis Schroder may be stuck hunting Redick. How Ferg handles Butler and how Grant handles Harris will also be key.
3. No Paul George
With PG out with shoulder soreness, it will fall on Russell Westbrook to carry the offense. Westbrook should have had a big role in the Thunder’s offensive gameplan even before the injury, especially with his nemesis Embiid unable to protect the rim. Russ has shown improved burst since the all-star break and looked great getting to the rim. His jump shot has also looked better, and in fact he’s shooting 43% on his 3’s in that time.
Russ should look to get to the rim in this game, since it’s safe to assume his hot 3 point shooting is simply due to small sample size. The only other explanation is a Space Jam power stealing scenario, since Russ’s sudden ability to shoot 3’s has coincided with Paul George's stroke abandoning him- he’s shot just 28% on 3’s since the all-star break.
We saw just how dependent on George OKC is for scoring in Tuesday’s loss against Denver. George had 25 points on 24 shots, and went 3-14 from three. He forced some tough shots, but he also missed a ton of looks he’s hit all season. If he’d shot at his normal clip, OKC probably wins. He didn’t, so they lost.
With George gone, the burden to create falls almost entirely on Westbrook and Schroder. With Embiid out, they should have an easier time finishing at the rim- if they can get there. Expect Butler and Simmons to be hounding the duo with PG sitting out.
Listen in to today’s podcast where we talk with the Liberty Ballers!
Who do you think will win tonight?
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