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Game Preview: Suns (15-9) face 76ers (18-8) in an afternoon battle

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Philadelphia enters the game with the best record in the East.

Phoenix Suns v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images

What: Philadelphia 76ers (18-8) vs. Phoenix Suns (15-9)

When: 1:00 p.m. MST

Where: PHX Suns Arena (Please name this soon)

Watch: NBATV, FSAZ

Listen: 98.7 FM


Who is ready for a quality showdown between two of the NBA’s best?

The 76ers come to town carrying with them the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Suns are holding tight to their #4 spot in the Western Conference. The hype behind this game mirrors that last time Philly was in town on November 4, 2019 as the Suns were 4-2 and the 76ers were 5-0. Granted, that was a pandemic ago and an early season matchup (that the Suns won as fans chanted, “MVP” while Devin Booker hit game clinching free throws).

This year Joel Embiid arrives amidst MVP hype, Phoenix is on a nice little win streak, and the game is at 1:00pm. When was the last time the Suns tipped at 1:00pm? Saturday, December 2, 2017 in a loss on the road in Boston.

Ring the bell, touch gloves, and (as Miles Lanes used to say) let’s get it on!

Probable Starting Lineups

Uniform Tracker

Back-to-back games for the Suns wearing their City Edition uniforms. You know how it is...national televised game (-ish...it’s on NBATV). When the spotlight is on Phoenix, they are The Valley. Response from the Bucks fans (via brewhoop.com) was nothing but positive relative to these threads on Wednesday night.

Philly is wearing their Association Edition uniforms. The 76ers are 8-3 when they wear their whites.

Out/Injured

Phoenix:

  • Cameron Payne (questionable, right ankle)
  • Dario Saric (questionable, ankle)

Philadelphia:

  • Mike Scott (out, knee)
  • Shake Milton (out, ankle)

76ers Update

  • Points-per-Game/Offensive Rating: 114.3 (8th)/112.2 (14th)
  • Opponents Points-per-Game/Defensive Rating: 110.5 (9th)/108.5 (4th)
  • Net Rating: +3.7 (6th)

The top team in the Eastern Conference is currently on a west coast road trip with Phoenix being the third stop. They lost on Thursday to Carmelo Anthony (he dropped 17 in the 4th quarter) and the Portland Trailblazers/ It was the second time in a 7-day span that they lost to Portland.

This is a tough opponent. They can beat you in a variety of ways, most notably with their big man and MVP candidate Joel Embiid. He is putting it all together this season: the talent, the speed, the spin, the physicality, the shooting. There is a reason that 76ers fans love Joel and this year is fortifying that affection with production. He is 3rd in the NBA in scoring (29.4), 11th in rebounding (10.9), 13th in blocks (1.3), 7th in true shooting percentage (66.6%), and 2nd in win shares (4.0).

He can beat you on all three levels and really likes the right side of the court. Just look at that shot chart (via StatMuse):

You then look at their other star, Ben Simmons, and you see why the Philly faithful trusted The Process.

He has length and physicality on defense coupled with elite court vision on offense. His 6’11” frame is hard to defend and even harder to shake on offense. Ben is currently 6th in the NBA in assists (8.0) and is second in defensive box plus/minus (2.6). He is a problem. And he knows it:

First-year GM Daryl Morey has done an admirable job surrounding Embiid and Simmons with pieces that compliment their skillset. The Sixers have shooters everywhere. They bid adieu to Josh Richardson this past offseason, opting to have the potent Seth Curry. He is shooting a ridiculous 50 percent from deep on 4.3 attempts-per-game. Tobias Harris is averaging a hefty 20.1 a game.

Danny Green left the Lakers with a ring (his second in two years and third overall) and provides defensive wing depth. 21st overall pick Tyrese Maxey had a 39-point game earlier this year. Matisse Thybulle is another versatile bench threat.

The Sixers don't kill you from the arc like Milwaukee does (Philly is 28th in 3PA, 19th in 3PT%). No, the force the issue at the cylinder. They attack you. Philadelphia #1 in the league in drawing fouls (21.9) and thus #1 in FTA (26.5). On the other end, they defend: 1st in blocks, 3rd in steals, 9th in rebounding. This is a well constructed roster that will make you earn every point while keeping pressure on you offensively.

Suns Update

  • Points-per-Game/Offensive Rating: 110.5 (21st)/112.3 (13th)
  • Opponents Points-per-Game/Defensive Rating: 107.8 (4th)/109.5 (7th)
  • Net Rating: +2.8 (8th)

How you feeling Phoenix?

I could go into the historical numbers as to how long it’s been since the Suns had a start that mirrored this season. But I won’t. I’ll focus on the intangible “vibe” this team has right now. You can’t look up “vibe” under the advanced stats portion of NBA.com or on Basketball-Reference.

Phoenix is vibing.

The team is starting to grow together and you are seeing chemistry. 4 straight wins are the product of team growth, guys knowing their roles, and executing the offensive game plan. The defense has been, and should remain, a strength of this team. When the offense comes along for the ride, this team is good.

The insertion of Frank Kaminsky into the lineup has changed the starts for Phoenix. The Suns were 22nd in the league with 27.2 points in the first quarter in their first 20 games. In the 4 games since the addition of The Tank, the team is 12th with 30.0 points. Monty looks like a genius for pulling that lever.

It will be interesting to see how this team responds with Dario Saric and Cam Payne waiting in the wings to return. We know the skills they bring, but it will be a matter of Monty managing his rotations correctly to ensure the sustained offense attack continues. It may take a couple of games to get that rhythm.

Keys to a Suns Win

Stop Embiid.

He likes to start early; 34.5% of his field goal attempts come in the first quarter. He will bully Deandre Ayton, he will hit his mid-range shots, and he’ll stretch the floor with the 3-ball. In his career he is 2-0 vs. Ayton, and the stats aren’t pretty:

Small sample size? Sure. But telling at the same time. While DA gets up for playing Nikola Jokic, he has a hard time simply containing Joel Embiid.

Head Coach Doc Rivers will most likely have the Sixers ready to go following a disappointing loss to the Blazers. Philly is playing elite and this will be the second quality litmus test in a row for Phoenix.

I want to continue the positive vibes and predict a Suns victory. Will Phoenix empty both barrels to try to beat the Sixers? Or will they hold a little back knowing they play the Orlando Magic the next day, a very winnable matchup?

Sixers 112, Suns 109