Sixers vs Hawks Preview: Embiid Will Be Tested by Howard
Early this afternoon (12:30 Comcast SportsNet), the Philadelphia 76ers will embark on game two of the Joel Embiid experience.
After a 20 point, 7 rebound performance from Embiid in the season opener brought 20,000 starved basketball fans in the Philadelphia area to their feet, interest in the team, both locally and nationaly, is higher than it’s been in quite some time.
Whether or not Embiid can replicate that performance is almost irrelevant, as bumps in the road are to be expected for somebody who has played so little basketball of late, and the matchup against Dwight Howard and the Atlanta Hawks will give the rookie center yet another physical matchup to test Embiid’s progress against.
What: Sixers (0-1) vs Hawks (1-0)
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
When: 12:30 PM
Watch: Comcast SportsNet
Projected Starting Lineups:
Sixers: Sergio Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid
Hawks: Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard
Ben Simmons (out, fractured right foot), Nerlens Noel (out, knee), Jerryd Bayless (out, left wrist)
Joel Embiid’s 20 minute playing time restriction remains unchanged, but Jahlil Okafor’s minutes have been bumped up to 14-16 for today’s game.
About The Opponent:
The retooled Atlanta Hawks lost franchise centerpiece Al Horford to the Boston Celtics last summer, but ably filled that spot with Dwight Howard, who had 11 points, 19 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots in his Hawks debut. While Howard (30) isn’t quite the dominant force he was in his youth, he’s still an active team defender and a force on the glass, and his offensive rebounding prowess (11.8% offensive rebounding rate for his career) will be quite the test for Joel Embiid and his one game of NBA experience.
The Hawks also have a different starting point guard, as they’ve handed the reigns over to fourth-year point guard Dennis Schroder after he spent the previous three seasons backing up Jeff Teague. Schroder finished with 14 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists in his first game since the Hawks traded away Teague in a three-team trade the day before the 2016 NBA draft.
The Hawks feature solid depth, with Kent Bazemore, Kyle Korver, and the always underrated Paul Millsap (28 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists in the opener) filling out the rest of the starting lineup. They also received great bench play in their win over Washington, with Tim Hardaway Jr (21 points), Thabo Sefolosha (13 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals), and Mike Muscala (9 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks) all contributing to a bench unit which destroyed Washington’s reserves on Thursday night’s win.
What To Look For:
Seriously, at this stage of the game, that’s what Sixers fans are looking for. And that’s what Sixers fans should be looking for.
This will, in many respects, be a more interesting matchup for the Sixers defensively. For as much of a force as Russell Westbrook is, the Thunder suffer from pretty serious spacing issues on the offensive side of the court, with a collection of supporting pieces that struggle to shoot from the perimeter.
The Hawks, with Bazemore, Korver, and Millsap in their starting lineup, suffer from no such deficiencies. Embiid’s instincts will be to rotate over and try to fill up some of that vacant space, especially when the quick Schroder gets into the paint, but leaving Dwight Howard free to crash the offensive glass could be trouble for Brett Brown and his team.
“We won’t be doubling Dwight as a regular part of our game plan. I see single coverage a lot,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said before the game about the matchup, a strategy in part because of the Hawks dangerous perimeter shooting but also because of the confidence Brown has in Embiid to control Howard down low. “(Embiid) can play single coverage (against Howard).”
While Embiid does have a solid 3-4 inches of height on Howard, it’s going to be difficult for Embiid to dislodge the strong and physical Howard down low, so establishing deep position early will be critical, and Embiid’s going to have to show the presence and awareness to kick the ball out and re-post if the deep position isn’t there initially.
Other than Embiid, how well Jahlil Okafor looks in his second game back, whether Sergio Rodriguez can build on his impressive first game, if Dario Saric can bounce back from his opening day struggles, and whether Robert Covington can look as in control as he did in the opener will all be storylines to keep an eye on. In terms of the Okafor and Embiid pairing getting some work in together, today might not be the matchup to test that against, at least not when Millsap (3-6 from three-point range) is playing the power forward spot.
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.