Sixers seek first home win against slumping Hawks

By Brandon Apter, Sports Talk Philly editor

The Philadelphia 76ers (3-4) return home to the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night for a match-up with the Atlanta Hawks (1-6). The Sixers are coming off of a 2-0 road trip in Texas, notching wins over both the Mavericks and Rockets. Meanwhile, Atlanta hasn't won since Opening Night against the Mavericks, dropping six straight. Last season, the Hawks swept the season series from the Sixers, 4-0, but both teams have changed since then.

Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid developing into dangerous duo

Let's be honest, when the Sixers started the season 1-4, it was tough to remain optimistic and take away moral victories. Sure, there were some strong performances, but with an improved roster, the Sixers should have the ability to close games out better. That's what they've done recently, winning three of their last four and two straight on the road thanks in large part to the performances of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

Ben Simmons has been everything Sixers fans had envisioned when he was selected first overall in 2016…and more. Not only is Simmons displaying elite court vision, but he's also starting to show the ability to take a game over. Simmons can finish at the rim and he's even shown more comfort shooting the jump shot, making all three of his attempts from the elbow on Monday in Houston. Over the Sixers' brief two-game road trip, Simmons averaged 23.5 points, 8.5 assists and seven rebounds, shooting 66.6 percent from the field.

Joel Embiid is starting to ramp up and get back to the form he was in last season, limiting his turnovers and getting the ball in the post more, especially later in games. Embiid still hasn't hit the 30 minute mark in any game this season, but he makes the most of his time on the floor, night in and night out. The 7-foot-2 native of Cameroon averaged 22.5 points, nine rebounds and 4.5 assists in the two recent road games for Philadelphia. After turning the ball over seven times against Dallas, Embiid turned it over just three times on Monday in Houston.

Sixers decline Okafor's option, making him an unrestricted free agent in 2018

By declining Okafor's option on Tuesday, the Sixers will save about $6.3 million in cap space heading into an offseason in 2018 that will include Joel Embiid's extension going into effect. At the moment, there's likely ongoing talks with Robert Covington about an extension, and in the coming years, they'll need flexibility to extend guys like Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz. 

Jahlil Okafor's tenure in Philadelphia will come to an end after the season, or perhaps sooner if he's dealt or cut. Drafted third overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, Okafor showed offensive dominance in the paint during his rookie year before suffering a meniscus injury that ailed him throughout the majority of the 2016-17 season. Jah cut meat out of his diet and lost 20 pounds this offseason, but has only appeared in one game all season.

Okafor talked to reporters today, indicating he didn't want the Sixers to pick up his option and that he'd like a buyout or a trade as soon as possible. At 21 years of age, Okafor said that he doesn't think Colangelo cares about his career.

“I’ve tried to everything the right way, I’ve tried to be professional. I’m going to continue to be professional, but at some point, I have to defend myself. And this is my career, and I’m not sure he cares about that. I think that’s kind of evident at this point. I understand it’s a business, you’re going to do what’s best for the organization. But at some point as people, from a personal level, you would hope, ‘OK, let’s get Jah out of here.’ Let him go play somewhere, because I’m 21, I’m healthy, and I’m trying to get on the right path of my career.”

Sixers bench steps up

After a brutal start to the season that saw them shooting under 33 percent through the first four games. Over the last three, the Sixers reserves have raised their shooting percentage on the season to 39.2 percent, and they've also been scoring 1.4 more points per game. Their biggest statistical jump over the last week has been in three-point percentage. Through the first four games, the Sixers bench shot an abysmal 24.3 percent from beyond the arc. That has jumped up to 32.8 percent, good for 18th in the NBA…much better than where they were before, ranked 27th.

The Sixers bench had their best game of the year against Houston on Monday as Amir Johnson, T.J. McConnell and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot combined for 40 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and two blocks. They shot a combined 58.3 percent from the floor and hit five of six from three. TLC was 4-for-7 from the floor and perfect 7-for-7 from the line. McConnell showed off his three point stroke, making all three of his triple attempts. Amir Johnson tallied his first double double of the season with 12 points and 10 boards.

Scouting the Hawks

Atlanta is just three seasons removed from a Conference Finals appearance and they've made the postseason each of the last 10 seasons. The Hawks, though, are not the same team from a few years ago. No more Jeff Teague, no more Al Horford, no more Kyle Korver, Tim Hardaway Jr. or Paul Millsap. Now, they own the Eastern Conference's worst record as their young team continues to try and develop together.

The Hawks are led by guards Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore. Schroder, listed as probable for tonight's game, is off to a solid start this season, averaging 22.2 points and 6.8 assists per game, shooting 43.6 percent from beyond the arc. Bazemore, the Hawks' starting two guard, is coming off of a game where he shot 2-for-9 from the floor. He's shooting 36.6 percent on the season, over five points below his career shooting percentage (42.1). 

There are two former Sixers on the Hawks roster in forward Ersan Ilyasova and center Dewayne Dedmon. Ilyasova spent part of last season with the Sixers after being acquired at the beginning of the year in a trade that sent Jerami Grant to the Thunder. The Sixers traded Ilyasova to the Hawks prior to the trade deadline, making way for Dario Saric to start. Dedmon spent a short time with the Sixers in 2014 via two 10-day contracts. He was a solid bench piece for the Spurs last season and joined the Hawks on a two-year deal this offseason.

 Projected Lineups

Matchup Preview  |  November 1, 2017
Atlanta Hawks
(1-6, 1-4 Away)
  Philadelphia 76ers
(3-4, 0-2 Home)
Projected Starters
Dennis Schroder Point Guard Ben Simmons
Kent Bazemore Shooting Guard Jerryd Bayless
Taurean Prince Small Forward Dario Saric
Mike Muscala Power Forward Robert Covington
Dewayne Dedmon Center Joel Embiid

*Sixers injury report - JJ Redick is listed as probable for tonight's game, Richaun Holmes is out & will be re-evaluated Thursday

Game Information

Tip-off – 7:00 p.m.

Location: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

TV: NBC Sports Philadelphia (previously CSN)

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

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