Injuries will play a big role in Sixers-Pacers matchup

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The 22-12 Sixers’ first matchup of March is a game Monday night at Wells Fargo Center against the 15-17 Pacers.

Here are the essentials:

  • When: 7 ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6 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: 

Key injuries 

Tobias Harris (right knee contusion) will not play Monday, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said pregame. Rivers classified Joel Embiid (left ankle soreness) as "very questionable."

Harris sat out Saturday’s game after leaving early during the second half of the Sixers’ win over Dallas, while Embiid appeared to hurt his ankle in the first quarter of his 42-point, 13-rebound performance against the Cavs. The Sixers are 1-5 this season without Embiid, 1-3 without Harris. 

For Indiana, Malcolm Brogdon (sore right knee) and Jeremy Lamb (sore left knee) are questionable. Brogdon missed his first game of the season Saturday, and T.J. McConnell played 46 minutes and recorded 17 points and 12 assists in the Pacers’ loss to the Knicks that night. 

T.J. Warren, who scored a career-high 53 points against the Sixers in the NBA’s Disney World bubble, is out long-term after having surgery in January to repair a stress fracture in his left foot. 

Needing an upgrade in effort 

The Sixers’ loss to Cleveland was possibly their worst effort of 2021. Harris was sidelined, yes, but the Sixers were healthier than an undermanned Cavs team near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Head coach Doc Rivers thought his team ran its offense “like a walkthrough” in the first half. It’s very uncommon for the Sixers to play that way at home; they've only lost five times at Wells Fargo Center since the beginning of last season.

A better showing Monday won’t guarantee a win, especially if Embiid and/or Harris don’t play. Still, Rivers will want to see more energy from the jump, and he’ll hope subpar transition defense, inefficient half-court offense, insufficient complementary scoring and costly turnovers aren’t issues like they were Saturday, and like they have been at times throughout the first half of the season.

Time to zone up again? 

While much of the Sixers’ game plan will rest on who’s available, some zone defense possessions wouldn’t be surprising. 

The team pulled off a comeback from 20 points down Jan. 31 in Indiana, thanks in large part to a series of game-shifting plays by Matisse Thybulle at the top of a 2-3 zone next to Ben Simmons. Defensive coordinator Dan Burke, a Pacers assistant for over two decades before joining the Sixers, recommended before the game to Rivers that the Sixers use a zone if they got in trouble. 

“Putting him in man makes him great but putting him in zone takes him to a different level, because now his instincts take over, and his hands,” Rivers said of Thybulle.

Though the Sixers have tried a zone here and there since, including during the second quarter Saturday, man-to-man is still the foundation of their defense. Offensively, Rivers often runs a play until the opposition proves it can stop it. Perhaps he’ll have a similar approach when it comes to zone defense against the Pacers.

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