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For Suns and 76ers, it’s all about playoff positioning

Nov 7, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) shields the ball from Phoenix Suns forward Torrey Craig (0) in the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

When the Philadelphia 76ers visit the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, both teams will be trying to bounce back from losses on the first legs of back-to-backs and improve their positioning in the playoff race.

Philadelphia (49-24) played the second leg of a four-game road swing on Friday, visiting Golden State.

Most Valuable Player contender Joel Embiid showed no ill effects from a calf ailment that caused him to miss the second half of Wednesday’s win in Chicago. Embiid scored 46 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished eight assists, but Philadelphia fell short in a 120-112 loss to the Warriors.

James Harden missed Friday’s contest, his second straight absence due to an Achilles injury. Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers told reporters prior to that game that Harden could return to the lineup in Phoenix.

Danuel House Jr. (shoulder) also was out of the lineup at Golden State.

Rivers went deep in the lineup, including using Furkan Korkmaz, who has seen his minutes fall since early in the season. The coach praised Korkmaz, who played five minutes, to the Philadelphia Inquirer, saying: “Furk’s a guy that’s always been in the rotations, and right now he’s just not in the rotations. But … guys get hot at some point, and Furk is preparing himself for the opportunity.”

Friday’s loss was just the 76ers’ third in the past 13 contests. However, the two teams Philadelphia is chasing in the Eastern Conference — the first-place Milwaukee Bucks and reigning East champion Boston Celtics — both won on Friday.

The Sixers now head into Saturday’s second half of the weekend back-to-back 1.5 games behind the Celtics and four games behind the Bucks with nine games remaining on Philadelphia’s docket.

Golden State’s defeat of Philadelphia impacted Phoenix in its jockeying for Western Conference playoff positioning.

The Suns (38-35) slid a half-game behind the Los Angeles Clippers for fourth place and are in a virtual tie with the Warriors for fifth place following a 135-127 loss at Sacramento. Golden State (39-36) has seven games left.

The loss to the Kings marked three straight for the slumping Suns. They are just 2-6 in their past eight games, all played with Kevin Durant sidelined due to an ankle injury. A hip injury kept Deandre Ayton out of each of the last three.

Ayton’s absence has loomed defensively in the three consecutive losses, during which Phoenix has surrendered an average of 127 points per game.

“There’s a number of struggles,” Suns coach Monty Williams said of his team’s defensive woes in his postgame press conference on Friday. “The 45 [points allowed] in the third was where we just couldn’t hold it down.”

The Kings’ scoring outburst turned an 11-point halftime deficit into a double-digit lead less than eight minutes in the period. Phoenix allowed three quarters of at least 32 points in a loss last Sunday at Oklahoma City, with the Los Angeles Lakers posting periods of 36 and 34 points on Wednesday.

The Suns’ recent defensive woes mark a stark contrast from Phoenix’s defense for much of the season. Phoenix ranks sixth in the league in points allowed per game, giving up an average of 112.1.

Philadelphia is third in the league with 110.3 points allowed per game.

–Field Level Media

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