Bench piece set to return, guarding dangerous backcourt, more before Sixers-Suns

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The penultimate game of the 18-8 Sixers’ West Coast road trip is an afternoon matchup against the 15-9 Suns, who have won four straight contests and seven of eight. 

Here are the essentials for today’s game:

  • When: 3 p.m. EST with Sixers Pregame Live at 2 p.m. 
  • Where: Phoenix Suns Arena 
  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 
  • Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app 

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Scott set to return 

Mike Scott, who’s been out since Jan. 14 with a right knee injury, is available to play. His presence might allow head coach Doc Rivers to take a few minutes off Tobias Harris’ plate, since he’s been asking Harris to play more with the second unit during Scott’s absence. Harris has averaged 35.6 minutes per game over the Sixers’ last 12 games, and he’s totaled nearly 79 minutes over the first two games of this road trip.

Shake Milton will miss a second consecutive game because of a left ankle sprain. Rivers found his bench’s lack of organization without Milton in Thursday night’s loss to the Blazers “really disappointing.”

Phoenix’s Dario Saric (left ankle sprain), Abdel Nader (left ankle soreness) and Cameron Payne (right foot sprain) are all questionable, though Suns head coach Monty Williams said pregame it looks like all three will play. 

Will Sixers keep blitzing? 

Ben Simmons can only guard one player at a time, as Rivers noted Thursday, so how will the Sixers defender the Suns’ backcourt of Devin Booker and Chris Paul?

In 10 career games against the Sixers, Booker has averaged 29.1 points and 4.6 assists, and he’s shot 47 percent from three-point range. Paul also happens to have been a highly effective long-range shooter against the Sixers over the years at 45.8 percent. 

We expect Simmons to start on Booker and Danny Green to begin on the 35-year-old Paul, although Simmons showed Thursday that he’s perfectly capable of defending small, shifty guards with his defense on Damian Lillard. It will be interesting to see the Sixers’ approach in pick-and-roll defense given Paul’s mastery in that world and Booker’s deep range. The team blitzed often in Portland, putting a lot on Joel Embiid’s plate defensively.

“I thought we were pretty good with it overall,” Rivers said. “I think it’s exhausting, honestly, for Joel, and I was concerned with that. I thought our back side was average. I thought where we got hurt was once we got matched up and they shot it, and then they got offensive rebounds. I thought their offensive rebounds crushed us tonight.”

Phoenix isn’t an exceptional rebounding team (22nd in offensive rebounding percentage, per Cleaning the Glass), so the Sixers shouldn’t have problems in that department regardless of their defensive approach. 

A three-point concern 

While the Sixers weren’t a bad three-point shooting team last season in terms of percentage, they simply didn’t attempt many threes relative to the rest of the league. That’s remained the case this year despite the offseason additions of Seth Curry and Danny Green.

The team is 27th in three-point frequency (30.5 percent), according to Cleaning the Glass. Phoenix, meanwhile is sixth in three-point frequency (36.3 percent).

While this might be an issue president of basketball Daryl Morey decides to address before the trade deadline, the Sixers in the short term likely can’t afford the dramatic three-point disparity that hurt them Thursday. The Blazers attempted and made 11 more threes than the Sixers.

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