The 4-7 Oklahoma City Thunder host the 7-4 Philadelphia 76ers Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Ben Simmons is back for his second contest after he missed two games with a sprained AC joint; however, the Sixers are coming off a 15-point loss to the Orlando Magic. Oklahoma City is coming off two losses, to the Bucks and the Pacers.
With floor generals like Chris Paul and Simmons out there, it should be a fairly steadily paced game with tons of ball movement. Paul and his teammates will have to take care of the ball, as Philly is second in the NBA in steals per game. The Sixers are 4-3 on the road against the spread this season and 3-4 on the road straight up, numbers they’d like to improve upon. The 76ers are favored by three in the contest with an over/under of 214.5.
Defense Leading To Offense
Philadelphia has had a bit of an up-and-down season, but it is early, and they have the talent. Defensively, they rank seventh in the league in both blocks and points allowed per game. They’re a highly skilled rebounding team that doesn’t foul much, though they don’t like to give up free buckets. Joel Embiid is a force inside on both ends of the floor and is difficult to post up against or box out.
Offensively, everything works through Simmons, who’s averaging 13.9 points and 6.6 assists per game. Simmons has been distributing the ball so well, everyone has gotten a piece. The rest of their starting five is averaging more than Simmons, highlighted by Embiid, who’s averaging 23 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. Al Horford and Tobias Harris are also putting in work, averaging 15.7 and 16.5 points, respectively.
The Sixers only allow opponents 8.5 offensive boards per game, while on their end, they pick up 10.5 on the offensive glass. Embiid and Horford outwork their opponents in the paint, and Simmons is always good for a handful as well. It’s a strategy that fits this roster well, at least when everyone is healthy. They also turn the ball over 18 times per game, so they must take care of the basketball.
Looking for a Spark
That’s about all that can be said about this year’s Thunder, who’ve at times looked very good, and at times looked lackadaisical and, well, not very good at all. Oklahoma City does, however, have a very talented roster that is capable of making the playoffs if it plays its cards right. And they have had a few bright spots this year.
Second-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who made the All-Rookie team last year, is averaging 20.1 points per game and is leading the team in scoring. Paul, while not as dazzling as in previous seasons, is still playing Chris Paul-brand basketball, averaging 15.5 points and 5.5 assists per game. Paul gets some help with the distribution from Alexander and Dennis Schroder, who are averaging 3.1 and 4.5 assists per game, respectively.
A healthy Steven Adams hasn’t hurt the Thunder’s chances either, as he leads the team in boards, averaging 9.6 per game. Adams is extremely physical in the paint, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Thunder handle Embiid and Horford when he crashes. The Adams/Embiid battle could be epically fun to watch.
Making the Call
Overall against the spread for the season, the Thunder and the Sixers are both 6-5. This game has the making of a contest that could be won or lost in the paint, which are often tight affairs. Oklahoma City fouls quite a bit, while Philly doesn’t. Philly turns the ball over at an exponential rate, while Oklahoma City sits in the middle of the league in turnovers. But there’s no doubt that the 76ers are the better team of the two. Can the Thunder keep it within three at home? I don’t believe so. The pick is the 76ers to win and cover on the road.