Extra Pass: Can Cavaliers stop skid, Sixers?

Published March 4, 2022, 4:00 PMMiguel Flores

The Cavaliers hope to end their woes and the Sixers’ 4-game winning streak tomorrow at NBA TV Philippines (available on Smart GigaPlay app).

Philly loves Harden

James Harden must be doing something right because it takes a lot for a city like Philadelphia to immediately embrace an athlete.

Harden looks spry as a 76er, far from his final days as a Brooklyn Net. There's already plenty to unpack in his first three games in Philly, mostly because they’re destroying opponents. Sure, two of those wins came against the lowly New York Knicks but an average winning margin of 20.6 points is nothing to scoff at. It's probably more than any Philly fan could have hoped for when they dealt for him in the waning hours of the trade deadline.

Harden’s averaging 27.3 points, 12.3 assists, and 9.0 rebounds as a Sixer, and the rest of the team has been elevated because of his presence. Joel Embiid doesn’t need Harden to put up MVP numbers but the quick chemistry they’ve built has been impressive. Tyrese Maxey has quickly adapted his game to Harden’s, turning his ball-handling touches into more cuts and spot-up opportunities.

This is the honeymoon period. There are going to be roadblocks down the road and how the Sixers respond to those will dictate how their long-term looks. The playoffs are going to be a massive challenge when teams key in on the Sixers’ key tendencies. 

The Sixers meeting a healthy Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow will present their biggest challenge since Harden debuted for them. The Sixers are 38-23, good for third in the Eastern Conference. They’re only two games behind first place but are also just 3.5 games ahead of the seventh-placed Toronto Raptors. The Eastern Conference can shake out in a few hundred ways. The Sixers can’t afford any slippage down the stretch.

Garland’s back

The Cavaliers haven’t been as dynamic or exciting in the last few weeks, mostly because their key players have spent time on the injured list. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games and are now sixth in the East with a 36-26 record. 

It should be a massive relief for Cleveland that they’re again relatively healthy for the final 20 games of the season as Darius Garland returned on Thursday and promptly dropped a season-high 33 points.

When these Cavs are healthy, they’re a menace on both ends of the court. Their other All-Star, Jarrett Allen, has been low-key having one of the best seasons for a two-way big man, converting lobs on offense then protecting the rim on defense. Evan Mobley hit his rookie wall and still looks great as the future face of Cleveland. If averaging 12 points and seven rebounds over two weeks was a step down for Mobley, his peak should be incredible. 

The Cavs are one of the most fun teams to watch when they’re healthy because youth drives everything they do. From their tempo and shot selection to the way they scheme their defense, there’s plenty of recklessness in the way the Cavs play. They shouldn’t be a playoff team this early into their rebuild. But the youth don't listen anymore.

Where to watch

The Cavs-Sixers game will be live tomorrow on NBA TV Philippines at 8:00 AM. As you’re having your morning coffee, tune in to what should be a tight matchup between two of the seven contenders in the East.

Philly not only has more star power but also features a bit more depth with guys like Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle flanking their core offensive trio. The Sixers have staggered Embiid and Harden’s minutes so well that they sort of have two different lineups they can deploy to maximize either of their superstars.

Cleveland, however, has shown they can scheme with the best of NBA teams. This is a potential first-round matchup so it may be unreasonable to expect Cleveland to unleash the full breadth of their adjustments. Still, they should have a few tricks to stay on pace with the Sixers.