The 14-11 76ers will face a serious defensive test against the 17-7 Utah Jazz, who smoked them last month in Utah 120-85.
Here’s three storylines:
Huge defensive test
Joel Embiid did not like how the Sixers played defense in their mini-series sweep of the Charlotte Hornets.
“I thought for those two games we sucked defensively,” Embiid told Sixers team reporter Lauren Rosen, “so we’ve got to correct that, but a win is a win. But we can always get much better.”
A similar defensive showing Thursday will be quite problematic. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Jazz’s 118.6 offensive rating outside of garbage time is over four points better than the league’s second best team, the Atlanta Hawks. Utah ranks first in three-point frequency and fourth in three-point percentage.
Can’t get much worse than last time
The Sixers didn’t let Donovan Mitchell go off when they were in the Salt Lake City on November 16, holding him to 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting, but there were basically no bright spots from a 35-point loss without Embiid, Danny Green, and Matisse Thybulle. The margin of defeat from that game is the worst of the season for Philly.
Mitchell won’t be an easy cover. The two-time All-Star has averaged 33.8 points over his last four outings, shooting 58.1% from the floor and 42.9% from three-point range.
Both the Sixers and Utah are wrapping up a back-to-back, meaning there won’t be clarity on player availability until later in the day. We’ll see whether Embiid suits up in the Sixers’ first back-to-back since his return from COVID-19. He’s been great during the team’s winning streak, totaling 103 points, 35 rebounds, and 15 assists over the three games.
Maxey getting back into ryhtem
Tyrese Maxey returned to action Wednesday night following a game out with a non-COVID illness. He took a season-low five field goals and recorded six points, three assists, and three turnovers in his 26 minutes.
“I felt ok,” Maxey told reporters in Charlotte, per SixersWire’s Ky Carlin. “Still hard to breathe, but it was really good to be back out there. I feel like the sweat was good for me, but it was good to be back out there tonight.”
Maxey hasn’t scored over 20 points since he led the Sixers to a shorthanded win over the Sacramento Kings on November 22. He hasn’t shot better than 40% from the floor since two nights before that Sacramento victory in a 28-point performance against the Portland Trail Blazers.
In the larger context of this season, it’s clearly important for the Sixers and Maxey to figure out how he can still be an efficient part of the offense even when Embiid and Tobias Harris are consuming a good amount of touches.
Catch the game at 7:00pm ET from the Wells Fargo Center on NBC Sports Philadelphia. Listen on 97.5 the Fanatic.