Sixers vs. Hawks: Can Joel Embiid Take Over at Home Once Again?
The Philadelphia 76ers returned from the NBA All-Star break with a bang last week. During a roller-coaster performance against the Brooklyn Nets last Thursday, the Sixers went from losing a monster lead and falling behind into a 20-point deficit to eventually forcing overtime and coming away with a win.
Without their All-Star center Joel Embiid taking over, the Sixers would've likely fallen flat on their face against Brooklyn. But the big man's season-high of 39 points and nightmare defensive presence issued a tough time for the Nets, who choked the game away.
Philly was looking to build on that momentum during their first road game back from the break with a tough matchup against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. Unfortunately, the results on Saturday weren't similar for the Sixers. While they did fall behind against the Bucks early, the Sixers never climbed back. In fact, they never possessed a lead during that 119-98 loss.
Now, the Sixers have to erase that tough road loss from their memory and attempt to pick up a win at home on Monday night. Coming to South Philly is the 17-41 Atlanta Hawks. This year, the Sixers are split at 1-1 against Atlanta with a win and a loss away from home.
While Philly is clearly the superior team on paper, they have issues on Monday night. For starters, their All-Star guard Ben Simmons has already been ruled out with a lower-back injury, which has yet to be specified as anything other than tightness. Meanwhile, Sixers starting forward Tobias Harris could miss the game as well as he suffered a knee contusion during Saturday night's loss to Milwaukee.
Those absences won't precisely guarantee a win for Atlanta, but it's definitely not an ideal scenario for the Sixers, who tend to struggle against their lesser opponents. Not to mention, Atlanta's star guard Trae Young typically gives the Sixers a fit as well. This year, Young has averaged 32 points-per-game against Philly. Without Philly's top guard defending him, Young could be a handful on Monday night.
Philly has to come together as a team, but the game will likely come down to how well Joel Embiid plays. It's evident the All-Star center can take over and win games, but this season his dominance has been on and off.
With a short-handed lineup, Embiid has no choice but to take over for his team that needs to ensure they win games against teams they should be beating. If he can't get the job done on Monday, then the Sixers will continue to see themselves fall within the Eastern Conference rankings, which could become bad news come playoff time.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_