The Philadelphia 76ers won their final four games before the All-Star break and look to keep their positive momentum going when they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday.
The Sixers’ success will continue to center on All-Star Joel Embiid, who scored 32 points for Team LeBron at the All-Star Game in Salt Lake City.
Embiid is second in the league in scoring, averaging 33.1 points per game, slightly behind the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic at 33.3.
Embiid decided to play Sunday despite lingering left foot soreness which has bothered him for several weeks. It will be something to key on as the playoffs inch closer.
“I’m focused on the season,” Embiid said. “We have a long season ahead, second half of the season. Once I get there, the main goal is to win. That’s where my focus is. Go out and do whatever it takes to try to accomplish that goal to win a championship. So, like I said, that’s where I’m focused.”
The Sixers haven’t reached the Eastern Conference Finals since 2001. They have a plethora of talent to get there, led by the duo of Embiid and James Harden.
“Since last year, we’ve been growing every single day,” Embiid said of the chemistry. “Obviously, it’s been, what, about a year since we’ve been playing together. It takes a lot of time to have a connection with somebody, but I feel like from the beginning we already had that connection. The way we play off of each other, I think obviously, you can always get better, but I think we’re on the right path.”
It’s unclear what role Mac McClung for the might fill for the 76ers after winning the slam dunk contest.
The Grizzlies won three of four before the All-Star break, with the exception of a 119-109 loss to the Boston Celtics.
Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. competed in the All-Star Game, marking the first time ever that two Grizzlies appeared in the event.
That’s also a result of winning, which the Grizzlies have done this season, going 35-22. It’s only the third time in franchise history that they reached 35 wins before the All-Star break.
Along the way, the ultra-talented Grizzlies have gained a reputation as a physical team which other teams have criticized.
“I don’t care no more. I’m protecting my energy. I’m not replying to no more nonsense,” Morant said. “I’m not trying to get no more techs this year. Not trying to get in no more altercations, none of that.”
The Grizzlies are clearly one of the deepest teams in the league with a legitimate shot at a championship. It became a much more daunting task when Kyrie Irving was traded to the Dallas Mavericks and Kevin Durant was shipped in a blockbuster deal to the Phoenix Suns.
Beginning Thursday against the Sixers, the Grizzlies believe they’re well prepared to state their case.
“You got to be — you got to have that confidence, no matter what,” Jackson said. “There’s no reason to ever approach anything different. That’s the biggest lesson. That’s what we really — we’re only here to do this for the kids, to teach the kids, just to have to believe in yourself and have confidence.”
–Field Level Media