Philadelphia 76ers

Subplots abound for Sixers' matchup against Rivers' Bucks 

Doc Rivers, Patrick Beverley and the Bucks are in the spotlight.

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A rather well-known coach will be in town Sunday afternoon.

“My All-Star coach?” Tyrese Maxey said with a laugh after the Sixers’ win over the Cavs.

Indeed, Doc Rivers — current Bucks head coach, former Sixers coach, winner of 1,101 NBA games — is returning to familiar territory. His presence is one of several subplots that make Sixers vs. Bucks an especially intriguing matchup.

“I’m not going to be worried about it too much,” Maxey said. “Of course, knowing me, I’m going to make some jokes with him and laugh a little bit. But honestly, I’m focused on the task at hand. 

“Like I keep saying, every game is so important to us, we don’t have time to focus on that right now. We have to focus on the Milwaukee Bucks. We have to focus on Giannis (Antetokounmpo), (Damian Lillard) … all those guys — (Patrick Beverley). And focus on what we have going on in-house. It’s going to be great.”

Though Joel Embiid remains out following a left knee meniscus procedure, the Sixers should be relatively healthy.

Robert Covington (out with a left knee bone bruise) and KJ Martin (probable because of a right ankle injury) were the only two other players listed on the team’s Saturday night injury report. De’Anthony Melton is back in the fold, Kyle Lowry is set to play his second game as a Sixer, and Nicolas Batum will presumably fill a larger role than the late-game inbounding specialist job he had against Cleveland. 

Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton is out because of a sprained left ankle. Antetokounmpo was listed as probable with right knee patellar tendinitis. 

Former Buck Cameron Payne is coming off of a strong 16-point performance Friday night. New Buck Patrick Beverley will be facing the team that just dealt him away in exchange for Payne and a second-round pick. 

“I respect it,” Beverley said on his podcast shortly after the trade. “Doc came and got his guy — me. (Sixers head coach Nick Nurse) went and got his guy — Kyle. Now I see Nurse’s hand. Man, I’m on Kyle’s ass when we play Philly. Straight up. That’s just how it goes. That’s just how it goes. Like how dare you? But say less.” 

Lowry didn’t take any offense to that comment, but he’ll certainly plan to match (or somehow exceed) Beverley’s intensity. 

“I like Pat,” Lowry said Wednesday. “I think Pat is the ultimate competitor. He’s one of those guys that gets fiery. His podcast is great. I’m not a podcast watcher, but he’s a friend of mine and that’s his competitive nature. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play against him, as always. That’s just basketball. It’s competitive nature.” 

Clearly, Beverley will be in the spotlight Sunday. While he’s averaged just 14.9 minutes thus far in his five games with the Bucks, the Sixers can speak to the 35-year-old point guard providing value well beyond the numbers. 

Preseason ejections and attention-catching podcasting candor aside, Beverley had an impactful stint in Philadelphia. 

“I talk to him all the time,” Maxey said. “Sometimes when I’m playing Call of Duty he joins my party, talks noise. He’ll shoot me a text or he’ll slide up in one of my Instagram stories and say something about how he’s going to lock me up or whatever.

“I love Pat Bev, though. Honestly, that just comes with the business. It sucks. You get close to people. But I think those are lifelong friendships. He’s made it to where I can call him if I need anything, and I definitely will do that. We’ll definitely chop it up. I’m pretty sure he’s going to bring high energy; we know who Pat Bev is. And I’m pretty sure he’ll bring us a lot of laughs and a lot of joy.”

The game itself should be plenty interesting, too. 

The Sixers are fifth in the Eastern Conference standings and determined to avoid the play-in tournament picture while Embiid rehabs. Milwaukee is third in the East and 4-7 under Rivers following a road win Friday over the Timberwolves.

Nurse is early in the process of figuring out lineups, rotations, schemes and late-game execution with the latest version of his team. Sunday’s game should be the first time that guards Maxey, Melton, Lowry, Payne and Buddy Hield are all available. 

The man Nurse replaced will game plan against Maxey. 

“I appreciate Doc,” Maxey said. “I really do. One thing I do appreciate him for is early in my career, like in my rookie year, he made me earn my spot. And that’s going to go a long way for me. I feel like I was good enough to play, but he was able to humble me and make me earn my spot.

“I’ll never forget he told me I was going to win a playoff game for us — midway through the season, after I didn’t play for like two and a half weeks. I was like, ‘Me? How am I going to win a playoff game? I don’t play.’ 

“But he told me that. He called me up and said, ‘You’re going to win some playoff games for us,’ and I did. And from there on out, it was great. ... I have no complaints or nothing. I appreciate him.” 

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