Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Contributor
Note – this will be the first in a four-part series to preview the 76ers return to NBA action
Your Philadelphia 76ers will be returning to the court on August 1st for an eight-game sprint to the end of the regular season. These eight games will help teams close out TV contracts that require 70 games to be broadcast locally, but will also determine playoff seeding (or, in the case of five of the Western Conference’s participants, playoff participation). The 76ers are one of twenty-two teams to gain entry into the NBA’s “bubble” in Orlando, FL.
The teams’ opponents were determined by taking their remaining games, eliminating teams that did not qualify for the bubble (New York, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit from the East, Minnesota, Golden State from the West), and plotting the next eight games from there.
As a result, the 76ers will play the following teams – Indiana, San Antonio, Orlando, Washington, Portland, Phoenix, Toronto and Houston. Today, Kevin McCormick and I will preview the games against San Antonio and Indiana, respectively.
Pre-stoppage record – 39-26 (t-5th in East)
Key players – Malcolm Brogdon (16.3 PPG/4.7 RPG/7.1 APG), Domantas Sabonis (18.5 PPG/12.4 RPG/5.0 APG ), TJ Warren (18.7 PPG/4.0 RPG/1.4 APG), Myles Turner (11.8 PPG/6.5 RPG/1.1 APG with 2.2 BPG)
The Pacers were off to a surprisingly good start, banking a 39-26 record before the season’s pause due to COVID-19. That record was surprising mainly due to the absence of star guard Victor Oladipo, who missed 11 months thanks to a torn quadriceps tendon.
He was able to return for 13 games before the shutdown, looking a bit rusty both due to the lengthy rehab but also trying to reintegrate to a team that had replaced much of his play making with the combination of Malcolm Brogdon (FA signing from Milwaukee) and newly-minted All-Star Domantas Sabonis. The Pacers were able to frustrate opponents by slowing games down (23rd in the NBA in pace at 98.5 possessions per game) and with a solid defense (7th in defensive rating at 108.3 points allowed/100 possessions).
It must be pointed out, however, that while the Pacers were playing well, they did struggle mightily against teams who had winning records as of the league’s suspension. They were 10-15 in such games, 3-8 on the road.
In other bad news for Indiana, Oladipo (continuing rehab for his quad injury) and Jeremy Lamb (torn ACL) will not be making the trip to Orlando. They should be getting Brogdon back from a torn hip, helping to provide not only play making and solid defensive play but also spacing for a lineup that takes the fewest three-pointers in the league.
Indiana comes into Orlando tied with the 76ers for the 5th spot in the East but they will be facing a brutal close to their season, finishing with games against the Lakers, Heat (2x) and the Rockets.
San Antonio Spurs
Pre-stoppage record: 27-36 (12th in West)
Key players: DeMar DeRozan (22.2 PPG/5.6 RPG/ 5.6 APG) LaMarcus Aldridge (18.9 PPG/ 7.4 RPG/ 2.4 APG) Dejounte Murray (10.7 PPG/ 4.6 RPG/ 5.8 APG/ 1.7 SPG)
For the first time in decades the Spurs find themselves on the outside looking in of the playoff picture as the season comes to an end. After years of consistency and success, the Spurs look like they might be heading into a rebuild. Although they have star talent in DeRozan and Aldridge, they have just not been enough to get the team into the playoff hunt.
These two teams faced off against each other back in November. The Sixers would go on to beat the Spurs by a final score of 115-104.
Offense has not be an issue for the Spurs this season, it has been their defense. San Antonio had a top ten offense in the NBA prior to the suspension scoring 113.2 PPG. Their struggle was slowing teams down, opponents were scoring 114.9 PPG against them which was 24th in the entire NBA.
This should be a game where the Sixers should look to capitalize on their size. The Spurs do not have the kind of size to match Joel Embiid down low. All in all this is a matchup the Sixers should walk away with a win in.