The 20-10 Sixers are in Tampa Bay for a two-game mini-series against the 15-15 Toronto Raptors, a peculiarity of a season played during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are the most important things for Sunday’s game:
- When: 7pm ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6pm
- True: Amalie Arena
- Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
- Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app
And here are three storylines to watch:
Two returns for the Sixers?
Ben Simmons (illness) and Shake Milton (left ankle sprain) were listed as likely on Saturday night’s injury report. Milton looked sharp during a practice session on the Wells Fargo Center floor before the Sixers beat the Bulls on Friday, and head coach Doc Rivers said he expected the 24-year-old to play Sunday. The Sixers bench was bad again without Milton against Chicago, who was surpassed 35-16 by Bulls’ second unit.
Simmons was also likely all day leading up to the Bulls game, but then was ruled out about an hour before the tip. Rivers said on Wednesday that he thought Simmons had stomach flu.
Kyle Lowry is in doubt because of a left thumb sprain. The Raptors haven’t actually lost a game without the Villanova legend since November 16, 2019 and are 5-0 this season. Another former Philadelphia basketball star, St. Josephs product DeAndre Bembry, has entered the last two Raptors games, victories over Milwaukee and Minnesota.
Embiid wants to remain stable
Before COVID-19 affected the daily rhythm of NBA life, Joel Embiid routinely chatted in his locker with basketball icon Philadelphia and Sixers executive adviser Sonny Hill. When asked Friday night after scoring 50 career points and 17 rebounds if he ever surprised himself, Embiid recalled some wisdom from those discussions.
No, he said. One thing the great Sonny Hill used to tell me is that we always talked after games and before games; with COVID, that’s not possible, he always said to me: can’t get too high, can’t get too low. Sometimes I have big games. It just feels like the past 15 or 20 games, it was all big games and all big numbers. But if it’s necessary from me, then I’ll do it. … I play to win, so whatever it takes. If I have to set up the screens and get guys open, pass the ball and do the attack like I did in the last game when I had nine assists, that’s what I’m going to do. If it dominates and only scores, that’s what I’m going to do.
But I care more about the defensive end, and I’m quite happy with what we did tonight, because defensively we haven’t been good in the last few games. My goal is to become the defensive player of the year. I care more about that cause and I am glad we did better tonight.
Embiid is right that any game of his lately can be classified as great. The last time he scored less than 25 points in a game was January 14. Hed posted 45 points, 16 rebounds and five steals the game earlier, so it’s not like he had anything remotely like a slump this season. While he may end up having a bad night, his extensive variety has made him immune so far.
Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher should be Embiids’ two main attack enemies in Tampa Bay. Hel wants to take advantage of advantages in agility over Baynes and size over Boucher, one of the NBA’s most improved players this year. Expect Toronto team Embiid to double as much as possible.
A contrast in styles
The Sixers are second in the medium-range firing rate and 29th in three-point rate this season Cleaning the glassThe Raptors essentially have the opposite shot profile as they are 28th in the center frequency and fourth in the three-point frequency.
Since the Sixers have several very good mid-range shooters, with Embiid being the best of the bunch, their low three-point volume hasn’t cost them too many games. Still, Sunday’s game against Toronto stands out as one in which Sixers’ opponent could have a massive off-arc advantage.
Fred VanVleet, who had his own 50-point game this season (54 points on 23 field goal attempts against the Magic on Feb. 2), certainly won’t mind firing away. Hes averaged 20.0 points, 6.5 in, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals in the first season of a four-year extension of $ 85 million.
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