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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Philadelphia 76ers

The Spurs look to split the season series with the injury-laden 76ers.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

If one good turn deserves another, is the opposite true as well? That’s the question that sits at the center of the San Antonio Spurs’ next contest against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Roughly two weeks after the then covid-depleted Spurs were on the losing end of a 119-100 whooping by the Joel Embiid and Company, they’ll get an opportunity to return the favor at home against a Sixers team that will likely be missing 3-4 of their regular contributors.

Normally this would bode well, but the Spurs have struggled against undermanned teams almost as much as they have against full-strength ones. And of course, there’s still the issue of Joel Embiid.

Embiid has been on an absolute tear since the end of December, scoring less than thirty-one points only twice since December 16th, and averaging forty-five points over the last two games, including a fifty point performance in only 27 minutes of playing time.

For all of their dysfunction, the Sixers are a top 10 ten team offensively and defensively, with no obvious weaknesses except at guard, as they lack a more traditional primary ball-handler, and a bit of size at the point; something that could probably be remedied by a certain disgruntled All-Star.

Barring that reconciliation, Philadelphia is a still a balanced and dangerous squad, headed by a coach who has a knack for creative lineup adjustments. While it’s likely that the Sixers will need for Joel Embiid to continue playing at this level to keep their heads above water, he’s shown no signs of slowing down, so you can expect them to be quite a handful.

Philadelphia 76ers at San Antonio Spurs

January 23, 2022 | 6:00 PM CT

Watch: Bally Sports Southwest| Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: None

76ers Injuries: Matisse Thybulle - Out (Shoulder), Ben Simmons - Out (Trade Fever), Shake Milton - Questionable (Back), Seth Curry - Questionable (Ankle), Danny Green - Questionable (Hip)

What to watch for:

  • The Return of the Backup Bigs Battle: As has been the case a number of times this season, it’s likely that the play of San Antonio’s backup centers will dictate whether the Spurs win or lose this one. The competition between Eubanks and Landale has now become a nightly experience, as they split the backup center minutes almost evenly and Gregg Popovich experiments with lineups that utilize Kieta Bates-Diop as a small-ball five. For now it appears that Pop is willing to let their playing time fluctuate a bit based on the match-up, but neither player proved to be much an answer in their last contest against the Sixers. If Jakob Poeltl is able to avoid foul trouble guarding Embiid (something he’s struggled with in the past), it might end up being a non-issue. But as past experiences have proven, it’s much more likely that the lack of a definitive backup will hurt the Spurs unless Gregg Popovich can find a lineup to negate the issue, or one of his nascent big-men can rise to the occasion.

Professor Pittsley’s Primer:

“This chart displays the on/off differential for both offense and defense. On/off data quantifies how much a player makes the team better (or worse) when he is on the floor vs off. Circles on the top of chart represent very impactful defenders and to the right represents strong offensive impact. Via the data, Derrick White is the Spurs most impactful defender and Dejounte is the most overall impactful player. (Speaking of impact, over the last month, Joel Embiid embodies it. Over the last 15 games he has averaged 33.6 ppg with a 66% True Shooting percentage.)”

On/off differential for offense and defense

For the 76ers’ fans’ perspective, visit Liberty Ballers.

PtR’s Game thread 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.