Philadelphia 76ers travel to face the Oklahoma City Thunder, live on Sky Sports Arena, with both teams in contrasting form.
The 76ers (39-22) have looked strong recently and the acquisition of Tobias Harris before the trade deadline seems to have re-energised Brett Brown’s team, who have won five of their last seven despite being missing Joel Embiid for a number of games.
Their most recent success came in a narrow 111-110 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night where Harris led the way with a 29-point, 10-rebound double-double that also included three assists and two blocks.
Ben Simmons also had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds and JJ Redick poured in 16 points, while Jimmy Butler went just 5-for-16 from the field but provided 11 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, two steals and one block.
The Thunder meanwhile, returned from the festivities in Charlotte with a dramatic double-overtime victory over the Utah Jazz, but perhaps slightly gassed by their efforts, they have dropped their last two games against the Sacramento Kings and the Denver Nuggets.
Paul George is still in stellar form for OKC, and paced the Thunder with 25 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and six steals when they fell 121-112 in Mile High City. Russell Westbrook was one dime away from a triple-double as he posted a 22 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists.
More concerning though was how Steven Adams struggled to handle Nikola Jokic in Denver, but both first-choice centers could be out for the 76ers who will list Embiid and Boban Marjanovic as out, alongside Furkan Korkmaz who is also unavailable for Thursday’s contest. All three players have knee injuries.
The Thunder continue to be without long-term absentee Andre Roberson (kneecap).
Thursday’s game marks the second and final meeting between the teams this season. The Thunder notched a 117-115 victory on January 19 so could take an impressive series sweep with victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Key Battle – Jimmy Butler vs Paul George
George has been on an absolute tear for OKC this year, and has asserted himself as the team’s number one option in front of long-time favourite Russell Westbrook.
He’s second in points per game in the league on 28.6 ppg behind James Harden, and is posting a plus-minus of 7.7, almost double his previous career-high.
That, coupled with the fact he’s the league leader in steals per game (2.3) demonstrates the strength of his play on the defensive end as well and there is no doubt that PG13 is in the MVP conversation.
But Butler is a player who relishes coming up against the best offensive stars and shutting them down. Although he can be a divisive character in the locker room, his defensive skills and hustle are in absolutely no doubt and he will be looking to shut down George’s productivity.
It should prove to be a fascinating battle between two experienced stars who are hoping their teams can have a deep postseason run.
Last time out
22 – That’s how many clutch wins (defined as games within a five-point margin entering the final five minutes) that the 76ers have. That’s second most in the league after Denver and demonstrates a team which can execute well down the stretch in games and which shows the composure needed to secure wins under pressure.
48.0 – The rebounds per game that the glass-eating Thunder pull down, good enough to rank second in the league. Westbrook is a top rebounding guard and Steven Adams is also one of the best centres at snagging rebounds. Their 12.3 mark for offensive rebounding leads the league and conceding second-chance points is always a danger against the Thunder.
27.3 – The number of assists per game the 76ers have which is third most in the league and leads the Eastern Conference team. It’s a stat which are always indicative of a team which prizes ball movement and looking for the best available shot. They’re also in the top five in points and rebounds per game as well (ranking fifth in both) which shows how well-rounded a team Philadelphia are.
One to watch (76ers) – Tobias Harris
The 76ers made it clear they were all-in contenders this season when they made the move to acquire Harris from the Clippers and it’s clear to see why he’s been a great fit already. He’s scoring more than half of his field goal attempts and is shooting 42.5 per cent from three.
For a team that needed more shooting to complement its superb ball movement, Harris was the right man and his ability to shoot in the clutch, and to a better standard that Butler, is just another weapon that Philly can potentially rely on.
One to watch (Thunder) – Russell Westbrook
A perennial triple-double threat, Westbrook leads the league in assists by a comfortable margin.
He is the driving force behind the pacey OKC offense and although his shooting has gone off a bit of a cliff, he is still an effective scorer due to his prodigious ability driving to the basket.
Coupled with his knack as a playmaker and superb speed, he will make a tough cover for Ben Simmons and could hold the key if the Thunder are to taste victory.