The 32-15 Philadelphia 76ers no longer lead the Eastern Conference after the Brooklyn Nets’ win Wednesday night over the Houston Rockets. The Sixers try to get that back Thursday night in Cleveland against the Cavaliers.
Here’s what to look out for:
Joel Embiid (left knee bone bruise) and George Hill (recovery from right thumb surgery) are still out. Embiid is expected to return Saturday and Hill will join the team in Philadelphia.
Despite this, the Sixers again might have an advantage over the Cavs. Similar to their Feb. 27 matchup. Jarrett Allen (concussion) and Larry Nance Jr. (illness) are doubtful. Kevin Love is questionable with right calf soreness and Dylan Windler is doubtful with left knee soreness. Veteran point guard Matthew Dellavedova is questionable to make his season debut after being sidelined by a concussion and appendectomy.
The Cavs have also lost three consecutive games, including a 39-point loss Monday to the Utah Jazz.
Cavs’ not standout offense
Since scoring 112 points on the Sixers in their February overtime win at Wells Fargo Center, the Cavs have averaged 98.8 points per game. They’re last in the NBA in offensive rating and points per 100 half-court plays (86.5), according to Cleaning the Glass.
As is usually the case when we consider keys for the Sixers, the team should be in good shape as long it avoids excessive turnovers and plays passable transition defense.
Final game without injured Embiid
It seems to be that this will be the final game before Joel Embiid’s return. The result likely will have a substantial impact on how the Sixers feel about their performance without their All-Star center.
That’s fair enough given the state of the Cavs and that the Sixers should be motivated as they seek a first win this season over Cleveland. A victory would give the Sixers a 4-2 road trip and 7-3 record after Embiid’s knee injury. That sounds a lot better than 3-3 and 6-4 with three straight losses.
“ … I’m not going to let our guys use (missing Embiid) as an excuse,” head coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday. “We have a chance to go plus-.500 on a road trip without Joel. That’s what we should be focused on, not that we’ve lost two without Joel. We’re focused on that we’ve won three on this road trip, and we have one more to win and we can have a positive road trip. I think that’s where our focus will be.
“The problem is Cleveland has beaten us twice and they’re going to have a ton of confidence going into the game. No matter what they’re doing, all they know is every time they’ve seen the Sixers, they’ve won. We’re going to have to come up with a better game plan against them and we’re going to have to play better against them.”