Phoenix Suns at Philadelphia 76ers
Time: 5 pm (Phoenix time)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
And now, for your reading enjoyment, here is another Holidays with Deadpoolio. Today’s celebration is the always festive Wear Brown Shoes Day. A celebration whose origins are lost to time, Wear Brown Shoes Day encourages everyone each Dec. 4 to…wear brown shoes. Really, it’s that simple. And because it only makes sense, Dec. 4 is also National Sock Day. Because what’s a pair of brown shoes without a good pair of socks? Unless those shoes happen to be, like, stilettos or something. Hey, no judgments. What a person wears in the privacy of their own home is between them and their ten toes.
The Phoenix Suns (8-16) hope to carry over the effort from a tightly contested matchup against the East-leading Boston Celtics on Saturday to tonight’s game versus the resurgent Philadelphia 76ers (13-9).
Philadelphia won its last game 108-103 over the Detroit Pistons at home on Dec. 2. They are 7-3 over their last 10 games and currently sit in fifth place in the East. Their 13-9 record is tied with the Denver Nuggets for eighth best in the entire NBA. The Sixers didn’t win their 13th game last season until Jan. 16.
There are two reasons for the rise of the Sixers this season, and their names are Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The oft-injured Embiid has managed to play in 19 games for Philly this season as their starting center and leads the team in points (23.1), rebounds (11.3), and blocks (1.7). Simmons, a rookie who missed all of 2016-17 while recovering from a foot fracture, has been just as impressive as the 76ers’ floor general, averaging 17.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 7.1 assists (6th in the NBA), 2.1 steals (2nd in the NBA), and 0.9 blocks. He already has two triple-doubles and an 18-rebound game on his short résumé. But those two also have help. J.J. Redick left the Los Angeles Clippers to sign as a free agent over the summer and now averages 15.6 points on 40.2-percent shooting from the arc. Robert Covington, perennially undervalued, is averaging 15.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, shooting 42 percent from 3, and collecting 1.6 steals per game (T-16th in the NBA). Dario Saric (11.5 points), Jerryd Bayless (9.7 points), T.J. McConnell (7.1 points, 5.4 assists), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (7.1 points), and Amir Johnson (4.6 points, 5.8 rebounds) round out the key contributors for head coach Brett Brown.
The 76ers play at one of the league’s fastest paces, which tends to distort some of their stats. For instance, they are a rather average team offensively when adjusted for pace (104.3 points per 100 possessions, 19th in NBA), which is backed up by their shooting percentages of 45.6 percent from the field and 36.3 percent from 3 (both 15th in the NBA). They also shoot 72 percent from the free throw line (29th) — a number dragged down by Simmons’ 55.9 percent. However, even adjusted for pace, the Sixers lead the NBA in total rebounds per game (47.5 per 100 possessions) and rank third in assists (24.6 per 100). They also hold opponents to 43.7 percent from the field (2nd in the NBA) and 33 percent from 3 (2nd). Make no mistake, this is not last year’s Sixers.
Points: Joel Embiid (23.1)
Rebounds: Joel Embiid (11.3)
Assists: Ben Simmons (7.1)
Phoenix did much more than expected in their last outing, nearly offing the Celtics in a late-morning tilt before losing 116-111 to fall to 1-3 on this six-game road trip.
The offense may run through Devin Booker for Phoenix, but he needs guys producing alongside him for the team to enjoy success. Enter T.J. Warren. The Suns are 5-0 this season when Warren scores 25 or more points and 3-16 when he dips below that. In Phoenix’s last game against Boston, for example, Booker scored 38 points but got just 19 points on 8-of-21 shooting from Warren. It’s probably not fair to expect Warren to average 25 points a night, just as it’s not fair to need 30+ from Booker, but with the way this team is constructed, they’ll be hard-pressed to get wins without that kind of production.
The Suns surrender the most points per game, pace adjusted or not, in the league. They are also in the bottom five for opponent field goal percentage (47.1) and 3-point percentage (38.4). They even get stripped by opponents more than any other team. But hey, ’tis the season of giving.
Points: Devin Booker (23.6)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (9.7)
Assists: Mike James (4.2)
Brandon Knight (Suns): torn left ACL (OUT)
Davon Reed (Suns): torn left meniscus (OUT)
Alan Williams (Suns): torn right meniscus (OUT)
T.J. McConnell (76ers): bruised left shoulder (QUESTIONABLE)
Justin Anderson (76ers): shin splints (OUT)
Markelle Fultz (76ers): mysterious right shoulder injury (OUT)
Jahlil Okafor (76ers): personal (OUT)
The Suns and 76ers split the season series last year, with each team winning on its home floor. Joel Embiid ran roughshod over the Suns in both meetings, and with him already having a 46-point, 15-rebound, 7-assist, 7-block performance under his belt this season, there is reason to worry. The Suns are expected to have Alex Len back from a sprained ankle and may need all three of Len, Tyson Chandler, and Greg Monroe to deal with Embiid. Phoenix counters with Booker against Redick, and Redick just isn’t a good enough defender to keep Booker in check. Matchups will determine this game. Whichever team exploits their mismatches more effectively will come out on top.
Tyler Ulis vs. Ben Simmons
Speaking of mismatches, this is a height differential you usually only see out on the playground courts. Tyler Ulis, who stands 6’ on his toes (5’10 when standing like a regular person), will be matched up against the 6’10 Simmons. The Suns will assuredly employ a number of defensive switches and double teams to keep Simmons from straight gansta-ing Ulis, but Ulis will need to find a way to hold his own at times, utilizing his quickness advantage so the Suns don’t have to shuffle their defense every time down the court. If Simmons is able to dominate this matchup like an uncle playing against his 10-year-old nephew on the driveway court at Thanksgiving, it’s gonna be a long, painful night.
Deadpoolio’s Neat-o Stat of the Game Preview (brought to you by basketball-reference.com)
While Tyson Chandler, Brandon Knight, and Greg Monroe have all done so, the only current Phoenix Sun to score 20 or more points against the 76ers in Philadelphia AND do so while wearing a Suns uniform is Jared Dudley back on Jan. 24, 2011.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com and basketball-reference.com.