The Sixers host the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas Day at 2:30 PM ET on ABC. The game should likely be one of the most watched NBA Christmas games on Wednesday as two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference battle it out in a possible preview for a Conference Championship match-up. Unfortunately for the Sixers, such a crucial game is coming at a rather inopportune time.
Rookie sixth man Matisse Thybulle was ruled out indefinitely on Sunday with a knee sprain and will likely be out at least through the new year. The team has also gone into an all too predictable slump following a hot streak of winning. After the well known 0 point performance in Toronto from Joel Embiid, the Sixers went on to win 9 out of their next 10 games. These included strong home wins over Utah, Denver, Toronto, as well as a difficult road win in Boston. The team has shown some positive outlooks with back-to-back wins over Washington and Detroit the past few days; but after three straight losses last week, it is unknown which team is going to show up on Wednesday in South Philly.
Milwaukee meanwhile has also been on a roll. The Giannis led Bucks dominated the Lakers last Thursday night in one of the best games by far this season and enter the game with a 27-4 record. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s stats are off the charts and Milwaukee is the clear front runner at the moment to take the Eastern Conference. He has managed to develop a reasonable three-point shot, currently shooting at 34% to go along with a double-double average of 31 points and 13 rebounds a game. Milwaukee has a ton of depth but will be short of their starting PG Eric Bledsoe, so expect former Villanova star and Wilmington, Delaware product Donte DiVincenzo to be starting at PG. The Bucks are off on Monday and Tuesday so expect them to be fully rested.
This battle at the Center has potential to be the highlight of the NBA Christmas day card.
How the Sixers can win
The Sixers will certainly have a strong home-court advantage as they enter with a home record of 14-2. Milwaukee runs a small-ball lineup with Giannis at the 4, so it’ll be interesting to see if either team adjusts their lineups to match better with the opponent. If Milwaukee does not, they will either have to put Antetokounmpo on Horford leaving an easy match-up for Simmons, or they’ll have to put a small forward like Khris Middleton on Horford.
For the Sixers to have a shot, they’ll have to be able to shoot efficiently and keep up with Milwaukee, especially off the bench. The Bucks are stacked with shooters like George Hill and former Sixers Kyle Korver and Ersan Ilyasova off the bench. With the absence of Thybulle, the Sixers will be vulnerable off the bench and will need guys like Mike Scott and Trey Burke to step up. They certainly have an advantage in the starting 5 if they can slow down Antetokounmpo, but to be able to win, the bench must play very efficiently.
Today, on the NBA Christmas Day card, is one of the few home games this year where I think the Sixers will find themselves as underdogs.
How the Bucks can win
For the Bucks to win, they just have to play by themselves. They have proven to be one of it not the best team in the NBA. In their four losses, they have given up over 116 points a game on average and have had poor team performances outside of Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are a solid team all around, they have the best young player in the NBA, and can efficiently run small-ball with steady shooters. The Bucks may have to adjust if the Sixers overwhelm them early but, if Milwaukee can get an early lead the Sixers will have to adjust to a small ball lineup without either Horford or Embiid. Milwaukee will have some vulnerability on the defensive end with Wesley Matthew most likely on Tobias Harris and Brook Lopez defending Embiid. Lopez has formed into a solid stretch 5 but it’s hard to tell if he’ll be able to slow down Embiid in the post. Like I said earlier, as long as Milwaukee plays their style of basketball, they should be able to hold on and overcome the difficult road match-up.
The outcome will come down to what Sixers team comes out on Wednesday afternoon. If we see a similar, dominating performance from Ben Simmons as we saw in Detroit on Monday night there’s a good chance the squad prevails. But if we get the same poor bench performance of shooting bricks and lazy defense from Korkmaz and Mike Scott it’s likely the team trails and is unable to come back. Overall, Embiid should dominate and if Ben can hold down Giannis the Sixers certainly have a chance to prevail on the NBA Christmas Day stage.
Final Score: Sixers 104-101