Sixers-Suns: 5 things you need to know

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Sixers-Suns: 5 things you need to know

The Sixers (8-20) return from their holiday layoff to continue their road trip against the Phoenix Suns (17-11).

Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. (CSN) at US Airways Center.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. On the road again
The Sixers pick up their six-game road swing in Phoenix. Things clearly haven't gone as planned for the Sixers away from home, as they come into the game with 12 straight road losses and a 1-12 mark on the road overall.

It doesn't get any easier against a surprising Phoenix squad. The Suns, tabbed by pundits to be among the league's worst teams prior to the season, are currently the sixth seed in the stacked Western Conference.

The Suns will be on the second night of a back-to-back set after a season-worst effort in a 115-86 loss to Golden State on Friday night. The Suns posted season lows in shooting percentage (36.0), three-point percentage (17.4) and points.

However, Jeff Hornacek’s squad should receive a boost from returning home where it is 10-4 this season.

2. Keep your guard up
In order to reverse their fortunes on the road, the Sixers must start by containing the Suns’ dynamic backcourt.

Phoenix is led by its guard tandem of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. With both players boasting the versatility to run the offense and score, the combo guard duo poses a serious threat.

Bledsoe and Dragic lead the Suns in scoring with 18.4 and 18.0 points per game, respectively. They also combine for 11.8 assists per game.

With neither player measuring taller than 6-foot-3, Michael Carter-Williams and Hollis Thompson must use their length to frustrate them at both ends of the floor.

3. Walk the line
The Sixers can also help themselves by attacking the basket against a Suns team that is prone to fouling.

The Suns allow 25.8 free throw attempts per game, which ranks 28th in the NBA. Opponents also connect on 20.0 of those chances, the second-highest mark in the league behind only the New York Knicks.

The Sixers shouldn’t have trouble forcing the issue. They average 50.6 points in the paint per game.

However, that doesn’t always equal trips to the charity stripe. The Sixers are 17th in the NBA in free throw attempts a game at 22.3.

4. Injuries
Nerlens Noel (knee), Arnett Moultrie (ankle) and Jason Richardson (knee) are all out.

Centers Alex Len (ankle) and Emeka Okafor (neck) are out for the Suns.

5. This and that
• The Sixers’ seven-day layoff between games is their longest of the season.

• The Sixers are 1-9 against Western Conference teams this season.

• The Suns are 2-4 in the second games of back-to-backs this season with the two victories coming in the last two opportunities.

• The Sixers are 7-10 this season when Carter-Williams plays and 1-10 when he doesn’t suit up.

• The Suns make a league-best 10.2 three-pointers per game at home.

• The Suns have plenty of Philly ties. Hornacek is a former Sixer. Meanwhile, Philadelphia natives and twin brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris are on Phoenix's roster. Dionte Christmas, another Philadelphia native and former Temple standout, is also a member of the Suns.

Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor to play Sunday, Joel Embiid out (right elbow)

Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor to play Sunday, Joel Embiid out (right elbow)

CAMDEN, N.J. — Two bigs back, one big out.

Nerlens Noel will make his regular-season debut Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Noel has been out since the preseason after undergoing elective arthroscopic left knee surgery in October.

Jahlil Okafor also will return following a bout of gastroenteritis, which sidelined him for the last three games. Neither Noel nor Okafor will have minute restrictions. 

Joel Embiid, on the other hand, will not play Sunday. He will miss the game because of minor inflammation in his right elbow, which he suffered in Thursday’s game against the Pelicans. The decision also is in conjunction with the load management plan the Sixers have mapped out for him. Embiid did not practice Saturday and will not travel to Detroit. 

“It’s very minor and we expect him back soon. Not much concern at all,” Brett Brown said of Embiid, adding, “I think it’s far more precautionary than anything people should get nervous about.”

With Embiid out, the addition of Noel will help the Sixers when they battle the Pistons and big man Andre Drummond, who is averaging a dominating 15.0 points, 13.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks this season. Noel will come off the bench as he gets reacclimated to the team and the flow of the game. 

“I felt great [to be cleared to play],” Noel said. “I was anticipating it so I got my mind right and this is what I’ve been working for throughout the whole rehab process. I’m feeling good and looking forward to it.” 

The Sixers are mindful of the fact Noel has not played in a regular season game since the finale last April. He has been working on getting his wind back up, and the Sixers will watch it closely in-game when determining his playing time. Noel said he has a “good starting foundation” with his conditioning. 

“You can do as much as you want on a treadmill,” Brown said. “You can do as much as you want one-on-zero … but there is nothing that’s like an NBA game. Everything goes faster, everything goes quicker, you have emotions involved which can also drown how fast and how long you can go. Those things are just part of him coming back into it, and we’ll manage him accordingly.”

Noel’s debut is the first step for him, regardless of how many plays. His athleticism will give another look to the lineup. Brown foresees having Noel back will allow the Sixers to play faster and protect the rim with a greater “bounce.” 

“We miss playing with Nerlens, just his presence,” Okafor said. “He’s an athlete. Obviously we miss him on the defensive side. We miss him as a leader vocally. It’s just going to be great having him back on the floor.”

The Sixers could counter the Pistons with the combination of Noel and Okafor, a duo they struggled to utilize together last season. Brown’s decision will be based on matchups. He pointed out a situation in which Drummond and Jon Leuer are on the court would be more favorable than one in which Tobias Harris is playing power forward. 

“You just try to pick your moments where you can maybe pair those guys up,” Brown said. “I think it will be a more genuine conversation as Nerlens starts playing more with us. He’s just really come back into it. But we come back and you play Toronto and you have all three bigs available, then it becomes another level of a conversation. I do look forward to it when we have an opportunity to intelligently match up with other people and we’ll play it out like that.”

The Sixers' next game after Sunday is Wednesday against the Raptors, when they expect to have their bigs ready to go.

Sixers' game vs. Kings rescheduled for Jan. 30

Sixers' game vs. Kings rescheduled for Jan. 30

The NBA has determined a new date for the Sixers home game against the Kings, which was postponed on Nov. 30 because of unsafe playing conditions on the court.

The game has been rescheduled for Monday, Jan. 30 at 6 p.m. This will create back-to-backs for both teams.

The Sixers are playing in Chicago on Jan. 29. They will play consecutive games against the Bulls and Kings, then have a road back-to-back against the Mavericks and Spurs on Feb. 1 and 2.

The Kings will be on what is now an eight-game road trip. They will play a back-to-back against the Rockets the next night in Houston.