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Preview: Joel Embiid’s Atlanta debut looms large as Philadelphia comes to town

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Atlanta’s third game of the homestand features a third consecutive playoff team.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The end of the season brings no favors to the Atlanta Hawks, as they’ll take on their third straight playoff team in the friendly confines of State Farm Arena on Saturday evening. The Philadelphia 76ers come to town for the first of two visits in the final nine games of the year and will not be waltzing into an easy victory after the Hawks took down the Utah Jazz in dramatic fashion on Thursday.

So far, Atlanta and Philadelphia have split their season series, with each team winning a game in the 76ers’ Wells Fargo Center. As the series shifts to Atlanta for games on Saturday and Wednesday, April 3, the home team will be looking to play spoiler for the Sixers’ fight for playoff positioning in a cutthroat Eastern Conference.

The heavy focus in this matchup will be on Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, who is set to make his debut in Atlanta as we near the end of his fifth (!) professional season. Since Embiid missed the first two years of his career with injuries and has been carefully managed since then, he’s never played in an away game in Atlanta, though it’s not quite the same as Dwyane Wade’s infamous “flu-like symptoms” that often plague the Hall-of-Fame guard when he visits.

Similar in size but not in skill is Ben Simmons, the reigning Rookie of the Year, who presents a massive matchup disadvantage for whichever team the 76ers face. Normally, the Hawks like to place Trae Young on his natural matchup defensively, but there’s no chance that he’ll be able to guard Simmons, which gives rise to crossmatches across the defense and potential difficulty getting matched up in transition. Simmons loves to run after rebounds and it’ll be imperative for Atlanta to get back and show him a wall in the paint.

It gets no easier for the Hawks elsewhere in the Philadelphia starting lineup, as the 76ers have built one of the more formidable five-man units in the league. Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris bring high-level scoring to the table and J.J. Redick is capable of burying you if you’re not constantly aware of where he is and where he’s going. The game will be a massive test for an Atlanta defense that’s had its troubles this year.

Stay tuned throughout the day for all the latest from State Farm Arena.

Game Info

Game Date/Time: Saturday, March 23, 7:30 pm ET

Location: State Farm Arena

TV: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass (out of market)

Radio: 92.9 The Game (Atlanta); Hawks Radio Network

Streaming: Fox Sports Go