By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor
After a tough loss against the Trail Blazers on Thursday, the Sixers continue their Western Conference swing facing off against the Phoenix Suns. This will be a tough matchup as the Suns are riding high on a four-game win streak.
Here are three things to watch in the afternoon matchup.
Battle of strong defenses
One thing these two teams have done well this season is defend. Heading into this matchup, the Sixers and Suns find themselves at fifth and sixth in the NBA in defensive rating. This should lead to a good 'grind it out' kind of game.
Outside of Deandre Ayton, the Suns don't have much frontcourt help defensively, but they have a lot of capable wing defenders. With guys like Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder, the Suns are more than capable to slow teams down on the perimeter.
Seeing how the Sixers respond to these capable wing defenders will be a major factor to watch. We have seen how the Sixers offense can stall when the outside shots aren't falling. The Suns might be able to give the Sixers some trouble if they can contest shots on the outside and shrink the floor for Joel Embiid.
Playing at your pace
Doc Rivers has talked all season about that he wants the Sixers to play at their speed in games. We saw in Sacramento that things got a little out of hand when they had to get into a track meet with the young Kings' squad.
Pace could play a major factor in this game but in the opposite way of how things went down to kick off this road trip. Right now the Sixers are a top-five team in the league in terms of pace, while the Suns are second to last in that regard.
Controlling the speed of the game should be a major focus for the Sixers. If they can get out in transition and make the Suns play up to their speed it could throw off their rhythm and help the Sixers take control of this game.
Defending star guards
Looking at this road trip there is one common theme, facing off against some of the league's top young guards. It started with De'Arron Fox, then Damian Lillard, now the Sixers will have their hands full with not only Devin Booker but Chris Paul as well.
The backcourt duo has been playing incredible basketball during the Suns' current winning streak. Over their last four games, Booker and Paul are both scoring over 20 points per game and dishing at least six assists. Slowing these two down offensively should be the top priority heading into this game.
Ben Simmons is coming off a strong defensive performance against Damian Lillard, and will likely be the primary defender for Booker this afternoon. This could be a game where Matisse Thybulle can come in and be an X-factor with his defense.
Thybulle did a great job slowing down Fox a couple of nights ago and will likely get his crack at both Suns' guards. If Thybulle can slow these two down during the minutes when Simmons is off the floor it could play a big part in securing a victory.