What: Philadelphia 76ers @ Phoenix Suns
When: 7:00 p.m. (AZ time)
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
Expecting the Suns to be competitive if not victorious every night is uncharted territory for Valley sports fans of the recent past. There are third graders who don’t know a world where anyone wears orange in the NBA playoffs.
It’s too early to proclaim everything is now different. A team like Philadelphia should still be expected to defeat the Suns. They’re title contenders. Phoenix is not.
Still, they will be missing Joel Embiid on Monday night as he serves the final portion of his two-game suspension stemming from an on-court fight with Karl-Anthony Towns. If there is any night we could expect the Suns to steal one from the Sixers, it’s this one.
109.6 ORtg (10th) - 101.2 DRtg (1st) = plus-8.5 netRtg (4th)
Projected starting lineup: Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, Al Horford
After a slugfest against Portland on Saturday night, Philly’s offensive rating exploded. Heading into that matchup, they were in the back half of the league. But as Suns coach Monty Williams acknowledged over the weekend, Ben Simmons always plays well when Embiid is out. That’s true over the course of a game when Simmons is on the court without Embiid, but especially in games Embiid misses.
The first time Embiid missed game in the 2018-19 season, Simmons led Philly to a win over the Pistons, 117-111. The LSU product nearly notched a triple-double, finishing with 18 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in 40 minutes.
During the first game without Embiid, it was Horford stepping up as a scorer and eighth man Furkan Korkmaz hitting the game-winner. Those are the guys you want to force into more playmaking.
109.9 ORtg (7th) - 99.7 DRtg (5th) = plus-10.2 netRtg (1st)
Projected starting lineup: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, Aron Baynes
Embiid smashed the Suns in November 2018 as well, so the team will be glad to avoid him. The key to beating this Sixers team will be much like competing with Utah: Defend well, limit mistakes, and win dirty. We know the Suns can stay in that type of game.
The bigger issue is the Suns don’t have great personnel to defend Simmons or Tobias Harris on the wing. Harris was 10-15 from the field against Portland and lit up the Suns consistently as a member of the Clippers last year.
Few teams have challenged the Suns’ lack of wing depth this season. Fortunately, Oubre has been better on D this season and Mikal Bridges showed signs of life in the last game. Rubio can check multiple positions, as can Jevon Carter. It will take everyone.
Hold on, another quick thing. Let’s not forget about the possibility of a Dario Saric/Monty Williams Double Revenge Game. They both actually seem to really love the Sixers, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t love to pummel them on the home floor. Carter robbed us of his Memphis revenge game, maybe Saric will give that gift?
Predicting the future
This sucks because I feel like I’m bringing a big storm cloud over to a nice little parade. Losing to the best team in the NBA doesn’t mean the Suns are no longer a pleasant surprise. It’s just that there are levels to this. Upsetting title contenders like the Clippers and Nuggets isn’t something we should expect every night.
Simmons is a handful and unless Oubre plays out of his mind, the Suns don’t have an answer. Phoenix is much deeper, but sometimes a top four or five is enough. For Philadelphia this year, it has been.
76ers 115, Suns 105