Sixers, Warriors look to improve on mediocre month
Two teams that failed to meet high expectations in February hope to elevate their game in March when the Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers meet in a nationally televised showdown Saturday night in Philadelphia.
The 76ers enter the game in the better form, coming off a two-game road sweep of New Orleans and Oklahoma City, while the Warriors lost on consecutive nights at Miami and Orlando.
But the Warriors rested key players in those games -- DeMarcus Cousins against the Heat, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala against the Magic -- and are expected to have everyone available Saturday, while the 76ers could be missing standout big man Joel Embiid.
The All-Star center has missed the past four games with tendinitis in his left knee, and while 76ers coach Brett Brown projected earlier in the week that Embiid would return for Golden State's visit, he wasn't nearly as optimistic when asked about it on the eve of the contest.
"Will he play on Saturday against Golden State? We don't know that," he insisted to reporters. "And the fans should hear that. It's still completely up in the air."
With or without Embiid, both teams will have a different look than they had when the 76ers won 113-104 at Golden State in January.
The 76ers since have traded for Tobias Harris, a former member of the Los Angeles Clippers with whom the Warriors are quite familiar.
Harris has been brilliant in his last five games, averaging 25.8 points and 8.0 rebounds, shooting 59 percent.
He averaged 25.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in three games against the Warriors earlier this season while still playing for the Clippers.
The Warriors were without Klay Thompson in the earlier loss to Golden State.
Returning after missing almost a full calendar year because of an Achilles injury, Cousins has played his best basketball with the Warriors on their current trip, contributing 24 points and 11 rebounds to a trip-opening win at Charlotte before returning from a one-game rest to go for 21 points and 11 rebounds in Thursday's loss at Orlando.
Cousins also has averaged 3.4 assists in his 15 games, slightly above his 3.2 career average, a skill that's surprised even Warriors coaches.
"What we found out as time has gone along is he's a better passer than what we thought," Golden State assistant Mike Brown noted this week. "With his ability to pass, we've actually thrown him the ball in certain spots on the floor for him to facilitate and play-make.
"Now he's taking his big away from the rim and there's small guys that are protecting the rim on the backside. Not only is he a tremendous passer, but he's a willing passer, too."
Neither team did much to improve its playoffs standing in February.
After an 11-2 January that vaulted the Warriors (43-19) to the top of the Western Conference, they went just 7-4 in February and begin March tied with Denver (42-19) in the loss column.
The 76ers (40-22), meanwhile, went just 6-4 in February and now find themselves dueling Indiana and Boston merely to earn home-court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The 76ers' earlier win at Golden State ended a 10-game losing streak to the Warriors, who had swept the last five season series.
Denying the Warriors a sixth straight win at Philadelphia would give the 76ers a shot at a season-series sweep of their own for the first time since 2012.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 1, 2019