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Preview: Suns take on Sixers to start a big day of seeding games in the West

The Suns have to win to stay in it, but the Sixers are depleted.

Phoenix Suns v Miami Heat Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns vs. Philadelphia 76ers

When: 1:30 p.m. AZ / Pacific time

Where: Orlando Bubble

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Capping off a back-to-back, the Suns will need to dig deep into their bag once again to keep the level of energy that’s allowed them to surprise six teams already in the Bubble. At every fork in the road, the Suns have swerved around roadblocks, slammed the pedal to the metal, and taken control back. Young teams just don’t play like that — except this one.

Can it continue? It would be foolish to say the momentum stops now, and Philadelphia will be without both its young superstars as well as (potentially) three other starters. During a day that will go a long way to decide the playoff bracket in the Western Conference, the Suns go first, and will have to take care of business.

Injury update

Suns: As of this writing, the status of Kelly Oubre Jr. (knee), Aron Baynes and Elie Okobo had not been clarified, but one can assume they will be the same. That means Oubre’s doubtful, while Baynes and Okobo will likely be the two inactive players on Tuesday.

76ers: Ben Simmons is already out of the Bubble recovering from knee surgery, and just about everyone else in the Sixers’ rotation is either out or questionable.

Suns’ opponents bad injury luck continues, as does opponents resting key players against Phoenix. But when you’re 6-0, the asterisks get erased. Even though Philly is resting guys, the Suns know how tough this will be, and how much is on the line.

Projected starting lineups

Suns: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Deandre Ayton

Sixers: Shake Milton and a few of his buddies

Phoenix Suns

Let’s take another look at the Suns’ victory over Oklahoma City. After Ayton missed the start of the game waiting for his second negative COVID-19 test after being late for his scheduled Sunday test, the Suns came out flat. They were down 14 after the first period. But with three-fifths of the Thunder starting lineup out in addition to stellar sixth man Dennis Schroder, Phoenix fought back in the second and third quarters to blow OKC out entirely.

Whereas Booker was harassed by Luguentz Dort back in February (Booker still had 27 points on 18 shots, but he had 7 turnovers against only 5 assists), the All-Star came back with a vengeance, getting to the line at will en route to another 35-point game. That, along with a strong shooting night from starting wings Bridges and Johnson (9-18 combined), was enough to give Phoenix its sixth straight victory.

What’s so impressive about this stretch is that the Suns have simply upped the ante on their winning recipe from the regular season: Force turnovers, share the ball, play with pace, and make open 3s. Do all those things, and win No. 7 will be a cake walk against a Philly team that is rolling over moment by moment.

With that said, here’s where things stand now:

Philadelphia 76ers

Everything is going wrong for a team that was pegged as a Finals contender heading into the season. The Sixers got everyone worked up all over again once they arrived in the Bubble healthy once more, but they’ve fallen flat, with Simmons now likely out for the year plus coaching and roster construction still big problems.

The sixth seed puts Philly in position to play Boston again in the playoffs, a redux of the 2018 series in which the Celtics dominated.

Screenshot via ESPN

Long story short: The Sixers don’t have much to play for, and they are already prioritizing health over making an all-out push for the fifth seed (admittedly unlikely at this point). But as the Suns have learned already, the teams in the Bubble can win even without all their stars. Even if it’s just Horford and Harris, that’s a talented, experienced team.

What else to watch

Remember: The Suns have to keep winning, and they also have to hope Portland loses at least one of its remaining games while Memphis loses both and San Antonio loses at least one.

The Spurs tip off against Houston at 11 a.m., followed by Suns-Sixers at 1:30 p.m., then Boston-Memphis at 2, and finally Portland-Dallas on TNT at 3:30. Basketball!

Root for this: Rockets, Suns, Celtics and Mavericks win.

Prediction

Of course I’m not going to be the guy who poo-poos this whole thing now! Why not root for this magic to continue? All of us have earned it.

(I also don’t think the Sixers play any of the guys nursing injuries, and what they put out there will look more like a glorified G League squad)

Suns 120, Sixers 100