Sixers host Cavs as No. 3 seed in East up for grabs

By Josh Liddick, Sports Talk Philly editor 

You've heard everywhere how big of a game Friday's is. Not just for the possibility of the Sixers (48-30) winning their 13th straight game, but also for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference standings.

Tonight, the Sixers play host to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers (49-30). In three previous matchups this year, the Cavs have won two. The Sixers won the last game in Cleveland back on March 1, and now at home, have a chance to make things more difficult for the Cavs than they would like to.

The Sixers are in the playoffs, of course, but now that Kyrie Irving has been ruled out for the remainder of the season including the playoffs, getting the No. 3 seed in the playoffs could mean avoiding the Raptors in the second round and playing the Celtics.

A Kyrie-less Celtics team is a lot more of an appetizing idea than having to face a hot DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry-led Raptors team.

The Cavs currently hold a half-game lead over the Sixers, having played an extra game, but on Friday, a Sixers win would have them control their own destiny for the remainder of the season.

The Sixers are hot, but so are the Cavs. Cleveland has won five straight, including 10 of its last 11 games. The Sixers, of course, have won 12 in a row. However, the Cavaliers' road to getting a winning streak together hasn't been easy. The Wizards almost halted the streak on Thursday night, when Cleveland got a  119-115 victory at home.

LeBron James has been playing out of his mind as of late, as the Cavs don't have a ton of things to worry about if LeBron is playing well. James is coming off an incredible performance on Thursday night, a 33 point, 14 assist, nine rebound night for the King.

In his last five games, LeBron is averaging a triple-double. 28.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 10.2 assists.

Stopping LeBron is going to be tough, but in all likelihood, it'll be Ben Simmons who will be able to guard him throughout the night. Simmons is one of the better defenders in the NBA as a rookie, and will have his own offensive night to work on against LeBron throughout.

The Sixers, without Joel Embiid, are undefeated. While it would be especially nice to have Embiid out on the court with the rest of his teammates, for right now, the Sixers are more than capable of winning on their own.

LeBron seems to have some doubt surrounding his Cavaliers team and whether or not they can compete in the playoffs.

"I think when it comes down to the postseason, we can be pretty good," James told reporters. "I mean, I think so. But we don't know. Listen, we lost our starting point guard (George Hill) last game, so we're trying to get everybody acclimated. Our head coach is still out, and it's going to take him a little time to get back as well, so I don't know what we're capable of doing. We haven't played a playoff game together. We got four guys from our championship team: myself, JR (Smith), Tristan (Thompson) and Kev (Love). We got some playoff experience, but you don't know. It's a new season, and we'll see what happens."

The Cavs will definitely be getting their first taste of a playoff atmosphere tonight when they visit the Wells Fargo Center. Many expect the game to be one of the biggest in the last seven years.

For LeBron, he knows what it takes to be successful against the Sixers, even without Embiid to have to worry about. After all, it seems like he has been scouting them all season.

"They're very good. With him (Embiid) or without him in the lineup. Obviously Embiid is a special talent. But they've been playing so much without him, that they still keep up the momentum going. With Amir (Johnson) they come in, with Richaun Holmes off the bench, those guys are athletic bigs who screen and roll does their job. And they always kind of do it by committee, and it starts with Ben (Simmons) getting everybody involved. And JJ Redick flying off (unclear). You have (Robert) Covington and (Dario) Saric and then (Marco) Belinelli coming off the bench. They've been playing some good ball."

You almost have to wonder, is this going to be the unofficial homecoming of LeBron James, the courting of the King to the City of Brotherly Love? Could be.

There may not be any chance of Joel Embiid playing on Friday night, but Dario Saric (elbow cellulitis) still remains questionable, even though the target return was tonight. We'll get a better look at his status closer to the start of the game.


Matchup Preview  |  April 6, 2018
Cleveland Cavaliers
(49-30, 20-19 Away)
  Philadelphia 76ers
(48-30, 27-11 Home)
Projected Starters
LeBron James Point Guard Ben Simmons
Rodney Hood Shooting Guard JJ Redick
Cedi Osman Small Forward Robert Covington
Jeff Green Power Forward Dario Saric*
Kevin Love Center Amir Johnson
Injury Report
George Hill
  Joel Embiid
Jose Calderon
  Dario Saric
    Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
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