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November 21, 2023

Sixers preview: In-Season Tournament tightens up and matchups with All-Star guards loom large

The Sixers are fighting for a spot in the Knockout Round of the In-Season Tournament before facing some star guards this upcoming week.

Sixers NBA
Maxey Gilgeous-Alexander Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Tyrese Maxey have been two of the NBA's best scorers this season.

A challenging week is on the horizon for the 10-3 Philadelphia 76ers, who will host the Cleveland Cavaliers in In-Season Tournament action on Tuesday night before embarking on a two-game road trip, facing two of the Western Conference's best teams: the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.

Let's preview the week that is to come:

In-Season Tournament Update

Note: A detailed breakdown of the In-Season Tournament and how it works can be found here.

The Sixers enter a suddenly-pivotal game of Group Play within Eastern Conference Group A against the Cavaliers Tuesday night, as they look to finish this stage of the tournament with a 3-1 record. The Sixers are behind the eight ball in Group Play, however, because their one loss came against the Indiana Pacers, who are 2-0 in Group Play, giving Indiana the tiebreaker over the Sixers. So in order to win Group A and earn a spot in the Knockout Rounds, the Sixers need to win against Cleveland and have the Pacers lose twice this week -- on Tuesday night on the road against the Atlanta Hawks, and on Friday night at home against a Detroit Pistons team that is 0-3 in Group Play and just 2-13 overall.

In other words: the Pacers' magic number to clinch the top spot in Group A is one, and one of their remaining two games comes against arguably the worst team in the NBA.

In order to make the Knockout Rounds, then, the Sixers would need to own the Eastern Conference's lone wild card -- given to the best non-group winner in the conference. Even if the Sixers beat Cleveland, there will likely be at least one other 3-1 team. That means the next tiebreaker, point differential, would determine who advances. 

Based on the format of the tournament, the Sixers could really use a convincing, lopsided victory over Cleveland -- winning the group seems unlikely at this point, but nabbing the wild card slot is conceivable with a strong outing on Tuesday.

Theme of the week: Electric guards

The Sixers -- particularly Tyrese Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, Patrick Beverley and Jaden Springer -- have their work cut out for them this week. The Sixers are facing a murderer's row of ball-handlers. First, Darius Garland of the Cavaliers, then Anthony Edwards, then Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It will be an exceptional challenge to contain those players -- the latter two of which have all performed at All-NBA level, if not MVP-caliber play. 

Edwards has taken the league by storm, and Beverley, who spent a year with him in Minnesota in 2021-22, spoke highly of his former teammate at Monday's practice, per Sam DiGiovanni of ClutchPoints.

"I told everybody at the beginning, 'That boy has the chance to be Michael Jordan,' and people looked at me like I was crazy," Beverley said. "Now all of the ESPN analysts and GMs are saying the same thing."

Last but certainly not least comes Gilgeous-Alexander, one of the only guards in the NBA who has been able to consistently score on Joel Embiid at the rim during his career. Gilgeous-Alexander has averaged 31.1 points per game over the last two seasons thanks to unmatched craftiness and incredible skill. He is one of the most creative scorers in recent NBA history, using a fascinating blend of changes of speed, unorthodox finishes and tremendous foul-drawing ability. Gilgeous-Alexander has quickly become one of the league's foremost offensive talents.

Between these three superstars and their diverse supporting casts, this week is not going to be an easy one for the Sixers. But it sure will be interesting.

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