The Atlanta Hawks aim for a two-game sweep of the Philadelphia 76ers when the teams meet in Philadelphia on Saturday.
The Hawks led by as many as 20 points in a 104-95 victory over the Sixers on Thursday in Atlanta. Hawks star Trae Young scored 26 points, while center Clint Capela added 18 points with a season-high 20 rebounds.
“Our approach was like a playoff series,” Atlanta coach Nate McMillan said. “We wanted to get the first one. Now we’re greedy and want to get the second one.”
While Atlanta is off to its best start (8-4) since the 2016-17 season, Philadelphia sits near the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 5-7 record.
The underachieving Sixers were hoping to build on Monday’s encouraging 100-88 win over the Phoenix Suns, but instead turned in a dismal effort versus Atlanta.
Philadelphia shot 38.6 percent from the field in the loss, including 6 of 30 (20 percent) from 3-point range.
The Sixers have struggled to find a rhythm without star James Harden, who missed the last three games and will be out for approximately one month with a right foot tendon strain.
One bright spot for Philadelphia against the Hawks was center Joel Embiid, who had 26 points and 13 rebounds for his second straight double-double after missing three games with the flu.
The Sixers had 17 turnovers and 15 assists against Atlanta, and coach Doc Rivers said his team needs more from point guard Tyrese Maxey.
“The lack of point guard play I thought was really clear tonight,” said Rivers. “We’re going to have to make an adjustment there.”
De’Anthony Melton could see additional time at the point, but he had three turnovers and one assist in 28 minutes against Atlanta and is shooting 25 percent over his last three games.
Maxey opened the season on a hot streak, shooting 51.6 percent from the field, including 46.8 percent from beyond the arc, in the team’s first nine games.
The third-year pro has faltered in the last three games without Harden, however, shooting 19 of 64 (29.7 percent) from the field. He scored 15 points on 5-for-17 shooting against Atlanta.
Embiid said Maxey might be overthinking in the wake of Harden’s injury.
“I told him, ‘Yeah, without James, we need you to be a point guard,” Embiid said. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking for your shot. He has to be aggressive for us to win. He has to be putting the ball up and he has to take shots. Right now, I think he’s thinking too much.”
The Sixers will need an improved effort overall to keep pace with Atlanta, which has scored at least 100 points in each of its first 12 games.
Capela is averaging 13.4 points, 16.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks over his last five games while shooting 54.7 percent from the field.
“This is the Clint that we saw two years ago,” McMillan said. “This is the Clint that we need out on the floor — rebounding the basketball, defending. He’s done a really solid job in the last couple of days defending some of the top players in the league.”
–Field Level Media