Cleveland at Philadelphia
Time: 6:30 PM CST
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The Philadelphia 76ers is 15-7 and in third place in the Atlantic Division. It will host the Cleveland Cavaliers at 6:30 PM CST on Saturday on NBA TV (The odds are yet to be announced but will be available via the Maddux Sports odds page as soon as books release them).
Philadelphia is rolling along after suffering a defeat to the Toronto Raptors four games ago. It has won seven of its last nine overall, and it sits at third place in the Atlantic division. The Sixers are just one game back from division-leading Boston (15-5), though. Toronto is wedged between (15-6). The division crown will be closely contested, and that is something of a surprise since most expected the Toronto Raptors to decline far more than it has shown us thus far.
Philly center Joel Embiid is putting together another MVP caliber season. The former Kansas big man is averaging 22.6 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.3 blocks/steals per game. His 24.68 PER leads the team. No. 2 scorer Tobias Harris also looks far more comfortable in his first full season with the team. He had some struggles adapting last season, particularly in the playoffs, but has come around now to average 19.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Harris’ court stretching is the most valuable aspect, opening up the floor for Embiid and Ben Simmons to do their work.
Simmons still is not really taking outside shots, but it has not mattered a lot. The Aussie is tallying 13 points and 8.5 assists per game, as definitely the NBA’s most unique point guard standing 6’9.” There are some lingering issues as to whether he and Embiid are definitely the best duo to continue to build around, but there is no denying the individual talents of either.
Josh Richardson has seamlessly stepped in as a third scorer behind Embiid and Harris, essentially assuming the role Jimmy Butler once did, but doing so at a much younger age. That gives the Sixers core some continuity and longevity since none of its core players are old veterans. That excludes the presence and name of Al Horford, whose talents have allowed Philly to keep Embiid’s playing time hovering around 30 minutes per game.
There were questions as to the purpose of signing Horford, but his 14 points and seven rebounds per game are a perfect way to supplant Embiid and keep him fresh for later in the season and postseason. Lastly, Furkan Korkmaz is developing into a vital second unit player and spark. The guard is averaging nine points per game, but his shot and presence on the arc keep teams away from Embiid and Simmons, much the same way Harris does while he is playing his team-high 34.2 minutes per game.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are just 5-15 and 2-7 on the road where it meets Philly Saturday. Things have not gone well for Cleveland, but this was expected to be a tough rebuilding season for a team simply searching for its core and some continuity following LeBron James’ second departure from Cleveland two years ago, after bringing his home town a title.
Collin Sexton is developing nicely into the team’s top-scoring threat at 18 points per game, but he is not really showing many signs of being an actual point guard, particularly after mostly surrendering the role to rookie Darius Garland. Garland has done fair as a rookie point guard with 10 points and three assists per game, but to say the Cavs lack a developed playmaker is something of an understatements. Garland’s three assists per game lead the team, actually.
Kevin Love has done well as expected with 16 points and 10 rebounds per game, but there is really no one to carry this team considering that is the No. 2 option. Jordan Clarkson averages 14 per game but he shoots just 41 percent from the floor on his 11 attempts per game. The Cavaliers as a team are shooting just 43.6 percent and 31.8 percent from three-point range where it attempts 31.8 per game.
Adding all this to the fact that the Cavaliers average 14.5 turnovers per game, and it simply equates to a very poor basketball team.
It will vie for a top pick in the 2020 draft, but it will need a franchise cornerstone to start this rebuild off in a more meaningful way. Neither Sexton nor Garland appears to be that level of talent.