3 storylines to watch for matchup between two of East's top teams

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The Sixers have no time to soak in their comeback win Tuesday night over the Knicks.

They’re right back at it Wednesday, facing one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. 

Here are the essentials for the team’s first of three games this season against the Bucks: 

  • When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:15 p.m. 
  • Where: Wells Fargo Center 
  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 
  • Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app 

And here are three storylines to watch: 

One streak has to end 

Every one of the top five teams in the Eastern Conference has an active winning streak of at least four games. That includes the Sixers and Bucks, who have won six and four straight, respectively. 

The Sixers are a game ahead of the second-place Nets and 2.5 games in front of the third-place Bucks. Milwaukee’s offense has been very productive in its first three games after the All-Star break, averaging 130.7 points per game on 51.8 percent shooting from the floor and 41.4 percent shooting from three-point range.

The Bucks have changed their offensive spacing principles this season, as detailed here by The Athletic’s Eric Nehm. It seems that the team, which includes new pieces Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, D.J. Augustin and Bryn Forbes, has found its collective stride. In his eighth NBA season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has averaged 29.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals. 

How will Sixers manage center rotation? 

Dwight Howard was a lot better than Tony Bradley on Tuesday and played 11 minutes more than the 23-year-old big man.

The Bucks’ two main centers, Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis, are both willing and capable three-point shooters, and neither Howard nor Bradley are well-equipped to guard on the perimeter. Lopez has been below league average from beyond the arc (33.9 percent) and Portis doesn’t take an incredibly high volume of threes, though, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Sixers let those two shoot up until the point that it hurts them.

The idea of Howard as a valuable player in physical playoff games has looked more and more valid over the past month. He’s scored a very efficient 140 points per 100 shot attempts since the start of March, and he’s grabbed 33 percent of defensive rebounds, best among NBA big men according to Cleaning the Glass. 

While the Sixers are aiming to stay at the top of the East even with Joel Embiid out because of a left knee bone bruise, it appears they don’t want to overuse Howard in pursuit of that goal. Playing 38 minutes per game, as he did during his prime with the Magic, looks very unlikely regardless of how well he plays. 

Facing a formidable transition team 

Though the Sixers won, the Knicks had the right formula to beat them for most of the night: Force them to play half-court offense and run whenever you have the chance.

New York scored 22 points off of the Sixers’ 12 turnovers and had 23 fast-break points, 15 more than the Sixers. 

Per Cleaning the Glass, the Bucks add an NBA-best 4.0 points through transition play per 100 possessions, and Milwaukee’s transition defense rates No. 2 in that same category. The Bucks’ transition success on both ends this season suggests they’ll have a good chance of mitigating a Sixers strength and magnifying a Sixers weakness. 

Transition defense will need to be a focused team effort, while Ben Simmons will surely be asked to accelerate the pace as much as possible. 

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