By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
The lone time the Philadelphia 76ers faced a team that didn’t reach the second round of the playoffs last spring, they came away with a victory. The Sixers will hope that trend holds to form Saturday night when they take on the Mavericks in Dallas.
Regardless of how much confidence owner Mark Cuban projects publicly about his team’s chances, in a Western Conference swimming with sharks, the Mavericks are basically chum in the water this season. Dallas sits at 1-5, sporting a -10.3 net rating that ranks 4th-worst in the NBA. Essentially, they’re unsuccessfully trying to straddle two eras, trotting out Dirk Nowitzki at starting center on the last legs of his Hall-of-Fame career, even while grooming Harrison Barnes and rookie point guard Dennis Smith, Jr. to be the future of the franchise.
Joel Embiid should have a field day for the Sixers. Even in his prime, Nowitzki was never a particularly mobile defender. Now 39 years of age, the big German gets up and down the floor like a geriatric getting in his doctor-prescribed cardio for the week at the local YMCA. I say this acknowledging Nowitzki as one of the greatest players of all-time and a tremendous human being, but the idea that he would be able to contain Embiid is laughable.
As a result, we may see more of one of Embiid’s best friends, Nerlens Noel. Noel has excellent per-36 numbers on the year of 15.2 points on 64.3% shooting, 13.3 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 1.9 blocks. However, he’s only playing 19 minutes per game in Rick Carlisle’s rotation, seemingly not back in the good graces of the organization after his heated contract dispute over the summer, which eventually saw him accept the 1-year, $4.1M qualifying offer.
Smith, Jr. has been about as advertised coming out of NC State, with electric athleticism that has earned him some early SportsCenter highlights, but an inconsistent shot that has seen him shoot 25.0% from three and 42.1% from the charity stripe in the early going. He is undoubtedly one of the fastest players in the league though, so it might behoove Brett Brown to match TJ McConnell on him as much as possible, rather than continually throw Jerryd Bayless out there to get roasted.
The contest should also be an interesting early test for Ben Simmons. I would assume Dallas would have Harrison Barnes on him for much of the game; at 6’8″ and capable of guarding a wide range of positions, the former Tar Heel and Golden State Warrior is likely among the most capable players in the league at defending the rare size and speed combo of Simmons as a 6’10” point guard.
When you stack everything up, the Sixers are simply a more talented team than Dallas at this junction. Philadelphia already proved they can go on the road and win in a similar situation against the Pistons. Let’s hope they do the same here and shake off the bad memory of the buzzer-beater loss to Houston.