When the NBA calendar was released in August, opening night, Christmas Day, and matchups against top teams like the Warriors and Raptors headlined the Sixers' schedule.
Nov. 19, though, was a date worth circling.
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On draft night back in June, ESPN's Chauncey Billups compared No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton, a skilled, athletic, 7-foot-1 center, to Joel Embiid.
Embiid was not a fan of that comparison.
Don't compare Ayton to me either... I play DEFENSE— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) June 22, 2018
He doubled down on his assessment of Ayton at media day in September, telling ESPN's Rachel Nichols and Stephen Jackson that "[Ayton's] about to get his a-- kicked this year."
"He's going to be good," Embiid said. "But when you talk about 'He looks like Joel Embiid,' I play on both sides of the court. I think I'm a good offensive player, good defensive player. I do it on both ends of the floor. I watched him play and he's got a lot of work to do. But he's got a lot of potential. He's going to be really good."
Ayton has done his best to distance himself from Embiid's trash talk.
"I don't even indulge in those type of things," Ayton said Sunday, per AZCentral.com's Duane Rankin. "I just play. I just play every time."
Ayton is averaging 16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds for the 3-12 Suns. Expect Embiid to attack him in the post early and often.
• Monday night is a homecoming for one of the Suns' other rookies, Villanova product Mikal Bridges. For about 20 minutes, Bridges was a Sixer, after the team selected him with the No. 10 pick in this June's draft. Then the Sixers traded him in exchange for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and the Heat's unprotected 2021 first-round pick.
Smith is sidelined for the Sixers after a series of unfortunate events, including a Jones fracture in his left foot in August, an allergic reaction in September, and complications stemming from that reaction. He's not expected to return to the court this calendar year, per a team source (see story).
Bridges, meanwhile, has had a solid start to his NBA career. He's averaging 7.7 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals and is the only Suns regular with a positive net rating (plus-3.6)
• Though Jimmy Butler is already fitting in quite nicely with his new team (hitting a game-winner tends to help with that process), he's still learning the Sixers' playbook, while Brett Brown is still determining how to best use Butler. On Saturday night in Charlotte, we saw more of the two-man game between Ben Simmons and Butler. Expect to see Brown add a couple more actions for those two, including some pick-and-roll looks with Simmons as the screener.
• The Sixers are 8-0 at Wells Fargo Center. The Suns are 0-6 on the road. As has been the case the past three games, the Sixers should take a sizable lead in this one. This time, they should be able to hold it.
Below are the essentials for Friday's game.
Jonah Bolden, F, 6-10, 220, No. 43
Jimmy Butler, F, 6-8, 236, No. 23
Wilson Chandler, F, 6-9/225, No. 22
Joel Embiid, C, 7-0/260, No. 21
Markelle Fultz, G, 6-4/200, No. 20
* Demetrius Jackson, G, 6-1/200, No. 11
Amir Johnson, F/C, 6-9/240, No. 5
Furkan Korkmaz, G/F, 6-7/185, No. 30
T.J. McConnell, G, 6-2/190, No. 12
* Shake Milton, G, 6-6/205, No. 18
Mike Muscala, F/C, 6-11/240, No. 31
JJ Redick, G 6-4/195, No. 17 13
Landry Shamet, G, 6-5/190, No. 23
Ben Simmons, G/F, 6-10/230, No. 25
Zhaire Smith, G, 6-4/200, No. 8
Justin Patton, C, 6-11/229, No. 0
* Two-way player
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