An improbable series of events would be required for the Sixers not to finish first in the Eastern Conference.
At 46-21, they lead the Bucks and Nets by three games. Each team has five left to play heading into Saturday night’s action.
Here are the essentials for the Sixers’ matchup with the 20-47 Pistons:
- When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
- Where: Wells Fargo Center
- Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
- Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app
And here are three storylines to watch:
Green not happy with Sixers’ play
The Sixers’ seven straight wins are a season-high. Danny Green isn’t pleased with how they’ve picked some of them up, though.
He was asked to assess how the team has been playing after Saturday night’s escape against the Pelicans.
“Not well,” he said. “Not our type of basketball. We’re getting wins, but I don’t like the way we’ve been getting them. We’ve got to be more locked in. I’m not saying that to disrespect — any team can win on any given night. They’re very talented teams regardless. But these teams are not 100 percent healthy; they don’t have everybody.
“If we’re going to play like the No. 1 team in the East or a championship contender, a team that wants to be the last team standing with the potential we can play, we need to do a lot better. I think when guys see these teams, they feel like, ‘All right, we only need to play offense.’ … Like I said, we’re just not playing the right way, offensively or defensively.”
While the Sixers have four wins by 20 points or more during their current streak — one over the Thunder, two over the Hawks and one over the Rockets — the other three victories have indeed been heavily flawed performances.
Double-digit second-half leads have slipped away and the Sixers’ bench has not been good in those games.
“I’m not worried about it,” head coach Doc Rivers said Friday night. “I go all (67) games; they’ve been pretty good overall. We went through stretches this year, if you remember, where the starters weren’t playing well. It’s just ebbs and flows of a long season. I’ve learned long ago, if you overreact, you get yourself in trouble. So I’m not that concerned at all.”
A bump in the road against zone defense
The Pelicans’ zone defense bothered the Sixers Friday night.
“We just didn’t move the ball,” Rivers said. “I thought the ball stuck the entire night. We walked the ball up the floor. And I thought we were very tentative against it. It affected us tonight. It hasn’t happened all year. We’ve been dominant against zone, for the most part, so it was one of those nights. It happens.”
Zone offense popped up as a problem for the Sixers in mid-December losses last season to Miami and Dallas. As long as they stay composed and execute the fundamentals, it doesn’t seem like it should be an issue moving forward.
“… I’ve been playing against zone since I was like 11 years old,” Ben Simmons said. “And one thing I noticed coming to the States is a lot of the American players panic a little bit when they see a zone and freak out. We’ve just got to keep playing through it, get to our spots.”
Grant reportedly plans to return
Former Sixer Jerami Grant was listed as questionable on Friday night’s injury report with right knee soreness. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported earlier this week that Grant planned to play against the Sixers. He’s been out since April 26.
Wayne Ellington (bilateral calf strain) and Cory Joseph (left ankle soreness) were also questionable. Dennis Smith Jr., Rodney McGruder, Josh Jackson and Hamidou Diallo have been ruled out.
One of the Pistons’ 20 wins came against the Sixers, a 119-104 game in Detroit on Jan. 25 that Joel Embiid missed due to back tightness.
Embiid (left knee injury recovery) had been listed as questionable Friday before playing and scoring 37 points in 33 minutes. He was one of three Sixers listed as questionable on Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. ET injury report, along with Seth Curry (left hip injury recovery) and Ben Simmons (back tightness). Furkan Korkmaz is out with a right ankle sprain.