After a brief homestand, the Spurs are hitting the highway for a five-game Eastern Conference road trip that kicks off with a nationally televised tilt against the first-place 76ers. Despite Philadelphia losing All-NBA center Joel Embiid to a knee injury for two to three weeks on Friday, Doc Rivers and company have more than enough firepower to challenge San Antonio.
The Silver and Black enter this matchup hoping to put together their first winning streak since returning from the All-Star Break, but the Sixers have won four in a row and won’t make for an easy opponent on the first night of a back-to-back. With that in mind, Philly is a paltry 2-5 when Embiid doesn’t play, and the good guys are finally healthy from top to bottom.
San Antonio Spurs (19-15) @ Philadelphia 76ers (26-12)
March 14, 2021 | 5:30 PM CST
Watch: NBATV & Fox Sports Southwest | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: LaMarcus Aldridge (Out — Not With Team)
Sixers Injuries: Joel Embiid (Out — Knee)
Bottling Up Ben Simmons
Without MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid, Philadelphia must turn elsewhere to recuperate a massive chunk of their point production. While Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, and Shake Milton will undoubtedly receive more shots and touches, Ben Simmons should see a drastic increase in his playmaking and scoring responsibilities when San Antonio comes to town.
Seeing as the six-eleven point forward will be just one day removed from health and safety protocols, he may not end up playing his usual minutes. That said, we’ve seen a handful of players return without restrictions, and the three-time All-Star could pose a significant problem for a Spurs team that potentially lacks the personnel to cover Simmons.
The 24-year-old former first overall pick is a nightly triple-double threat and a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year Award candidate. And his unique positional size and skillset have turned him into one of the most versatile assets in the NBA. He may shy away from the three-ball, but he has plenty of other ways to do some damage.
Although Keldon Johnson and Rudy Gay seem most likely to draw the tall task of sticking to Simmons, don’t be surprised if Coach Popovich throws a handful of different looks at the oversized floor general. Derrick White and Dejounte Murray could pester Simmons for a few possessions, and if we’re lucky, Luka Samanic might get a chance too.
Sunday may be the first time the Silver and Black have been 100% healthy this season. Of course, LaMarcus Aldridge will still be away from the team as they search for a suitable trade partner. However, this means Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, Keldon Johnson, and Jakob Poeltl will have a chance to improve upon their 4-1 record as a starting unit.
And while the starting five is probably set in stone moving forward, the bench is unsurprisingly a work in progress. San Antonio owned the best second-string in the NBA by average point differential before the All-Star Break. However, several players proved themselves worthy of minutes in the absence of Rudy Gay and Devin Vassell.
Luka Samanic, Keita Bates-Diop, and Drew Eubanks were serviceable off the pine. Tre Jones and Quinndary Weatherspoon showed out in their short G League stints. All five have displayed enough talent to crack the rotation, which should make for some incredibly intriguing lineup experimentation as the second half of the season unfolds.
The Spurs utilized 13 different players when they blew out the Magic on Friday night, but it’s doubtful the Spurs will rout the Sixers even without Joel Embiid. Philadelphia lays claim to an unusually position-less and switchable roster, so fans should be in for an entertaining chess match between Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich.
For the Sixers fans’ perspective, visit Liberty Ballers.
PtR’s Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.