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Sixers clash with former teammates Okafor, Stauskas in Brooklyn

By Brandon Apter, Sports Talk Philly editor

 Tip-off: 7:30 pm ❖ Location: Brooklyn, NY ❖ TV: NBC Sports Philadelphia ❖ Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic 

The Philadelphia 76ers (24-23) have lost two in a row after winning nine of 11 prior to Sunday's loss in Oklahoma City. They followed that up with a defeat in Milwaukee without Joel Embiid. Tonight, the Sixers visit the Brooklyn Nets (18-33) and former teammates Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas for the first time since they departed Philadelphia in a trade back in early December.

"Just to see them on another bench and subbing in against us, it's going to be really weird," T.J. McConnell told reporters on Tuesday after practice. "I'm especially close with Nik and Jahlil so playing against two really good friends, it's going to be different."

With the Pistons (23-24) coming off of a big win against Cleveland on Tuesday and Blake Griffin now on their roster, the Sixers can't afford to lose games like tonight's if they plan to make a push for the playoffs. Brooklyn has lost 10 of their last 13. Currently, the Sixers sit in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, two games ahead of the Pistons and three in front of the Knicks (23-28), who they play on February 12.

Former teammates go head-to-head

The current Sixers have faced a number of former teammates already this season in Nerlens Noel and Jerami Grant, but this one feels a bit different. For the first time since being drafted third overall in the 2015 NBA draft by the Sixers, Jahlil Okafor will play against Philadelphia, probably with a rather large chip on his shoulder. The former Duke product was professional throughout the entire center logjam on the Sixers' roster, but wasn't a thought in Brett Brown's rotation this season. Whether you liked that or not, the tension between Okafor and the Sixers was there and it finally came to an end in December when Bryan Colangelo sent Okafor and Nik Staukas to Brooklyn. 

Since he hadn't played much at all in Philadelphia, Okafor appeared in just one of his first 13 games for Brooklyn. Recently though, Jah has gotten an uptick in minutes, but his numbers are still not too impressive. In 15 games for the Nets this season, he's averaging 5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in just under 13 minutes per game. He's gotten over 20 minutes in the last two games and Okafor had his best game with Brooklyn in a 111-97 loss to Minnesota, tallying 21 points and six rebounds. He's scored in double-digits during three of his 15 games with the Nets. 

Meanwhile, Nik Stasukas has seen a little more action than Okafor, playing in 19 games and averaging 15.5 minutes over those. Nik is averaging 6.5 points per game, shooting 41.7 percent from the floor and 44.6 percent from beyond the arc. He's coming off of two strong performances, scoring 15 points against Minnesota on Saturday and 12 in a loss to the Knicks on Tuesday, shooting 5-for-13 from beyond combined.

In exchange for Okafor and Stauskas, the Sixers received veteran power forward Trevor Booker. In 22 games for Philadelphia, the 30-year-old has seen mixed results, averaging 5.2 points and 4.0 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. 

If there's one matchup that should be fun to watch, it'll be Embiid vs. Okafor. While the two were very close when they both played for the Sixers, Embiid let Jah know what he planned to do to him right after the trade went down.


More minutes for Richaun?

Since we've already talked Jahlil Okafor, a once forgotten center in the rotation, let's move on to another guy that's been passed over quite a few times this season - Richaun Holmes. Say what you want about his defense, but what Holmes brings to the floor with energy and aggressiveness is worth some minutes for a Sixers team that seems to fall flat in the second half.  Holmes has been a DNP-Coach's Decision in four of the last eight games. In three of the four he's played in, it's been mop-up duty for the most part. 

With Joel Embiid out against Milwaukee though, Holmes showed why he deserves to get a look more often. In 23 minutes, the 24-year-old scored 13 points and grabbed six boards, throwing down dunk after dunk. Heck, all of his six baskets were dunks. Richaun's game is the pick-and-roll on offense and it seems like both Ben Simmons and T.J. McConnell work well with him on the floor when he's rolling to the basket. 

Despite the strong performance, Brett Brown looks set with Amir Johnson as Joel Embiid's primary back-up. His stability on defense is clearly a more valuable trait than Holmes' energy and offensive upside in Brown's eyes. Johnson is averaging 4.2 points and 3.9 rebounds this month, but his defensive box plus-minus is a 3.2 compared to Holmes' 0.7 this season.


Redick, Bayless return as Sixers look to turn around three-point shooting woes

The Sixers will be getting JJ Redick and Jerryd Bayless back tonight, but their absences have left the majority of the long-range shooting to Robert Covington and Dario Saric. On Monday night in Milwaukee, the Sixers didn't hit their first triple until there was just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter. They finished the game with a 2-for-26 line from beyond the arc. 

"Without Joel, we knew that if we were going to win, we needed a successful 3-point night," Brett Brown told the media after Monday's game. "We had to find points from somewhere."

Covington has been mired in a slump for quite some time now, not really looking like the same player the Sixers signed to an extension in November. Covington has had trouble getting back into rhythym ever since injuring his back against the Cavs in mid-December. Since that injury Cov is averaging nearly five points less per game and his shooting percentage has dropped more than eight percentage points. RoCo went just 1-for-8 against the Bucks on Monday and has made just five of his last 22 from three-point land.

Meanwhile Saric had been looking better from beyond the arc, hitting 12-for-18 combined in the four games prior to the Sixers' loss to the Bucks on Monday. During that game though, Saric missed all eight of his three-point attempts. He went 7-for-10 on two-pointer's, but he'll need to develop some more consistency from beyond if  Covington continues to struggle.


Projected Lineups

Matchup Preview  |  January 31, 2018
@
Philadelphia 76ers
(24-23, 12-13 Away)
  Brooklyn Nets
(18-33, 10-15 Home)
Projected Starters
Ben Simmons Point Guard Spencer Dinwiddle
JJ Redick Shooting Guard Allen Crabbe
Robert Covington Small Forward DeMarre Carroll
Dario Saric Power Forward Quincy Acy
Joel Embiid Center Jarrett Allen
Injury Report
    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (groin)
    Caris LeVert (groin)

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