When this year’s NBA schedule was released last year, tonight’s matchup between the Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors looked like a potential Finals preview. What a difference a year makes. Klay Thompson is rehabbing his knee, Kevin Durant is rehabbing his Achilles in Brooklyn and Steph Curry missed 58 games with a broken hand. The Golden State dynasty is on life support, but the Sixers are also muddling through a disappointing season.
Philadelphia heads into the matchup without All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and a dismal road record. A trendy pick to win the Eastern Conference at the start of the season, the Sixers are tied for fifth place and 10-23 on the road. The Sixers have been so lifeless on the road this year that they are only favored by two points over the 14-win Warriors.
Shake and bake, baby!
If there’s one positive the Sixers can take from the current state of their rotation without Embiid and Simmons, it’s the emergence of second-year guard Shake Milton. Little more than a mop-up player the first four months of the season, Milton has been on a tear in the five games since Joel Embiid went down with a shoulder injury. The SMU product has averaged 22 points a game, including 39 against the LA Clippers, while shooting 62.5 percent from the field and 67.7 percent from deep.
The Sixers ended their nine-game road losing streak on Thursday in Sacramento. They’ll look to end their West Coast jaunt on a positive note. Former Warriors Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III will return to San Francisco for the first time after being traded to Philadelphia at the deadline. Both played well in Sacramento and will be counted on again to offer outside scoring with Josh Richardson still out with a concussion.
Get Steph going
This is a lost year for the Warriors, who have the worst record in the NBA. They’ll be playing out the string over the final months of the season, angling for the top pick in the draft, but should focus on getting Steph Curry back to normal. Curry shot just 6-for-16 and 3-for-12 from beyond the arc in his first game back from the broken hand. Even prior to breaking his hand, Curry had struggled without his superstar running mates. He had made only nine of 37 three-point attempts on the year prior to the injury.
The Warriors also need to spend the final 19 games of the year seeing if Curry and Andrew Wiggins can mesh. Wiggins has averaged 20.2 points on 46.3 percent shooting since being acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Those still look like empty numbers on a bad team, but may look better if he continues to score well with Curry and the Warriors win a few tough games. Golden State could be set to rebound quickly in 2020-21 with Curry, Wiggins, Thompson and springy big James Wiseman, the likely top pick in this year’s draft.
Sixers avoid the trap and get home with a win
The two-point line in this one just screams trap game, but taking the Sixers and giving two points to the worst team in the league is still a safe bet, even with Curry back in action. The Sixers haven’t played well on the road at all this year, but are coming off a dominant win over
Sacramento. Philadelphia will sic defensive stalwart Matisse Thybulle on the rusty Curry and let Wiggins try and beat them. Even without Embiid, Simmons and Richardson, the Sixers still have enough talent to get by the skeleton-crew Warriors. Look for the Sixers to summon a good effort to end their road trip and easily cover the two-point spread.