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This is an important matchup for the same reason the NBA put it on opening night. These are two long-time rivals that are vying for a top spot in the Eastern Conference. Heading into the season the Sixers were clearly ahead in the preseason power rankings because of their star studded roster and the Celtics’ loss of Al Horford (coincidentally to the Sixers).
As of Tuesday evening, both teams have 17 wins while the Celtics are ahead by 2 in the loss column. The Sixers were expected to be a top defensive team, and they are. However, the Celtics are tied with them in Defensive Rating at 103 (good for 3rd in the league).
What separates these teams at the moment is on the offensive side. The Celtics are ranked 7th while the Sixers (who struggle with spacing) are only 13th.
Several analysts have pointed out that Philly’s two biggest stars (Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons) are not very complimentary in style. Embiid works in the paint but Simmons doesn’t stretch the defense for him because he refuses to shoot 3 pointers (even when his coach wants him to take at least 1 per game). Simmons prefers to attack the paint but has no room when Embiid is clogging the lane. Both are very talented players and they have largely succeeded despite these issues, but it is something to keep an eye on as we see how Brad Stevens sets up his defensive strategy.
When discussing the Celtics’ weakness in the frontcourt, the Sixers are often brought up as a difficult matchup. Embiid and Horford are big, talented, and a difficult matchup for any team, regardless of their center rotation. We’ll see if the Celtics can throw enough different looks at Philly to minimize those matchup issues. On the flipside, perhaps they can play a little extra small-ball to create matchup advantages of their own.
Regardless, it should be fun to see a rematch of opening night and perhaps a preview of a playoff matchup coming in the Spring.
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