ATLANTA – The 76ers suffered from a severe case of the Atlanta Hawks blues last season.
Overlooking their struggling opponent, the Sixers were flat while losing the final three games in the teams’ four-game season series.
The Hawks finished with the NBA’s fifth-worst record (29-53) and are expected to be among the league’s worst teams again. Yet, Atlanta (2-0) has been one of the NBA’s early surprises with victories over the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic to start the season.
The Sixers (2-0) have taken notice and are focused on giving a better effort Monday night at State Farm Arena. Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid (right ankle sprain and sutures for lip laceration) is listed as questionable for the game. He missed Saturday’s 117-111 road victory over the Pistons.
“This is a whole different team,” said Ben Simmons, comparing to last season. “I think us knowing Atlanta wasn’t as good last year, we kind of came in there relaxed, nonchalant.
“We have a whole different feel and vibe with this team now that we have to take every game as it is, and it has to be important to us.”
As good as they were on the court last season (51-31 in the regular season, reaching the second round of the playoffs), the Sixers had chemistry issues. This season’s players all appear to get along and say they have one common goal.
And on Monday, the goal is to contain Atlanta’s Trae Young. The Hawks’ second-year point guard led the NBA in scoring at 38.5 points heading into Sunday’s games. He was also tied for sixth in assists at 9.0 per game. By comparison, Simmons was tied for fourth at 9.5.
Young had 38 points, nine assists and seven rebounds Thursday in a 117-100 season-opening victory at Detroit. On Saturday, he collected 39 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds in a 103-99 home win over the Magic.
Young averaged 23.5 points on 52.4% shooting in last season’s four games against the Sixers.
In addition to having an elite young guard, the Hawks are known for playing hard under second-year head coach Lloyd Pierce, a former Sixers assistant coach who isn’t the only Hawk with ties to the Philadelphia area and the Sixers.
Rookie small forward DeAndre Hunter (Philly) and rookie shooting guard Cameron Reddish (Norristown) are both from the area. Former Sixer Evan Turner is a Hawks reserve, and DeAndre Bembry, also off the bench, stood out at St. Joseph’s.
The game will also be sort of a homecoming for Al Horford, Sixers reserve power forward Mike Scott, and general manager Elton Brand. The Hawks selected Horford with the third overall pick of the 2007 draft, and he spent his first nine seasons in Atlanta. Scott was selected by the Hawks in the second round of the 2012 draft. Brand spent two seasons as a player in Atlanta.
“I always want to play well there,” Scott said. “I spent five years there. I know Al spent a long time there.
“They are a great young team. I think Trae Young is right on that 40 [average], right now. So it’s going to be tough. But yeah, I definitely want to play well there and get a win.”