NBA

Simmons stand-in Maxey attempting to lead Sixers' revenge bid against Atlanta

By Sports Desk October 29, 2021

The Philadelphia 76ers will not have fond memories of playing the Atlanta Hawks as the two teams head into their first matchup of 2021-22 with 3-2 records.

The 76ers' playoff run last year ended against Atlanta in a Game 7 defeat at Wells Fargo Center.

That was a hugely damaging series for Philly, not only bringing their season to a close but also increasing the attention on Ben Simmons' below-par displays.

Simmons averaged just 9.9 points against the Hawks and did not attempt a single fourth-quarter field goal from Game 4 onwards. He has since pushed for a move, but the Sixers cannot find a trade partner.

The 76ers are without Simmons so far this year but will hope Atlanta's return to Philadelphia can provide the motivation required to truly kickstart their season.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Philadelphia 76ers – Tyrese Maxey

Without Simmons, second-year point guard Maxey has come into the lineup. The 76ers have played the same starting five in each game so far this season, with Maxey for Simmons the only change from last year's most-used lineup.

Maxey is not exactly a like-for-like replacement for Simmons, though. For all his faults, the wantaway three-time All-Star is an elite defensive player – averaging 1.6 steals, 0.6 blocks and 5.6 defensive rebounds last year – and a far more comfortable facilitator than Maxey, who has 2.1 assists per game for his career.

But the Sixers' 2020 first-round pick is still just 20 and acknowledges he is learning on the job.

"It's a work in progress," he said after 16 points, six assists, six rebounds and four turnovers against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday. "It's the fifth game, stuff is slowing down, you figure out which guys want the ball, try to find switches or advantages that work for us.

"It's getting a lot better. The coaching staff and my team-mates have been great. They've been helping me."

And perhaps against Atlanta, a team who have benefited from Simmons' reluctance to shoot from deep, Maxey's superior shot could prove useful. He is 45.9 per cent from the midrange and 30.0 per cent from three for his career versus Simmons' 37.6 per cent and 14.7 per cent.

 

Atlanta Hawks – Trae Young

Two years older than Maxey, the Hawks' point guard Young is far more established both at the position and in the league. He averaged 29.0 points and 10.9 assists against the 76ers in the playoffs.

That postseason run seemingly saw Young move to another level as one of the NBA's leading young players, but this season has not so far gone entirely to plan.

His 24.2 points per game ranked 17th in the league through Thursday's games, having last year finished 14th in that regard (25.3 ppg), yet the former fifth overall pick feels those numbers should have been boosted by more generous officiating.

Young became the latest player to complain about the NBA's "interpretive change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls" after a loss to the Washington Wizards.

He is shooting a career-best 95.5 per cent from the foul line but has attempted only 4.4 field goals per game. Having averaged 9.9 attempts per game against Philly, Saturday's opponents know how crucial it is those marginal calls continue to go against him.

KEY BATTLE – Can Collins continue to impress against Embiid?

The battle of the big men should be worth watching on Saturday, with John Collins surely meeting his match in the form of 76ers superstar Joel Embiid, one of the league's best two-way centers.

The Hawks have relied on dominating during Collins' minutes so far this season, with his plus/minus a team-leading 8.4 and his net rating an impressive 29.3.

The six-foot-nine center also has 12 dunks, but Embiid is ticking along at 1.8 blocks per game and there could be fireworks if Collins attempts to take on his direct opponent.

HEAD TO HEAD

Atlanta might have won the game that mattered most, but they and the 76ers split the series 5-5 across the regular season and postseason last year.

The Sixers have the edge in the all-time regular season record, leading 196-191, although the Hawks closed that gap considerably during 'The Process' era, having an 18-9 advantage since the start of the 2013-14 campaign.

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