Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:06 AM

Sunday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Philadelphia at Oklahoma City (-3.5, 214.5), ESPN, 6:05 ET

The Thunder (29-20 SU, 20-28-1 ATS) cruised past the slumping Pistons in Detroit on Saturday, christening the brand new downtown Little Caesar’s Arena with their presence for the first time by scoring 121 points, one off the most scored by an opposing team in the building. OKC won its season-best seventh straight game, the NBA’s longest current run of success. Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony combined to score 88. ‘Melo reached 25,000 career points.

Despite all that, no one was in a mood to celebrate as they got out of town to head back home for Sunday’s date with the 76ers (24-21, 26-19). The course of Oklahoma City’s season had been altered.

Andre Roberson, the team’s standout defender and starting wing opposite George, ruptured his left patella tendon in the third quarter, slipping violently as he cut underneath the rim. His feet came out from under him, he landed on his backside and quickly flipped over and slid himself forward out of bounds about 10 feet. He was carried off on a stretcher and will be lost for the remainder of the season.

It’s an immense loss for the Thunder, which went 4-4 while he was sidelined with knee tendinitis. They’ve won five straight since his return, improving to 24-15 in games he plays. His impact on the rest of the team as a guy who doesn’t need the ball and effectively does all the dirty work on defense can’t be replaced by a single guy and may require GM Sam Presti bringing in another wing to aid the cause.

The 76ers arrive as one of just eight NBA teams entering Sunday with a winning road record, but have never won in Oklahoma City. In fact, they won the first game against the franchise after they became the Thunder upon moving from Seattle, but haven’t won since, carrying a series losing streak of 17 straight games into this one.

OKC has surrendered 114 or more points in four of the 10 games Roberson has missed. Opponents have managed to score that many in just seven of the 39 contests he’s worked in, so expect totals to increase. The ‘over’ is just 5-5 in games he’s missed, but the players remaining to help fill the void, 19-year-old rookie Terrance Ferguson and older vets Jerian Grant, Patrick Patterson, Josh Heustis and Alex Abrines, are nowhere near as reliable on the defensive end. Roberson made George and Anthony more effective.

The Thunder will move forward with a new starter opposite the Big Three and invaluable center Steven Adams, likely turning to Ferguson first since he filled in well while Roberson sat. We’ll immediately find out how well they’ll be able to move on since Philadelphia provides an immediate test on the second night of a back-to-back.

Joel Embiid has already confirmed he’s playing for the Sixers, who look to win a third straight game after embarrassing the Spurs on Friday night 97-78 to open a four-game road trip that continues in Milwaukee on Monday and culminates in Brooklyn on Jan. 31. Since Dec. 30, Philadelphia has won nine of 11, their finest stretch in that amount of games since the start of 2012, the last year it reached the playoffs.

Confidence is sky-high for the 76ers, who swept the Spurs for the first time since ’04 since they hadn’t won in San Antonio since that season. They held them to a season-low scoring output in the 97-78 rout. Philly won the first quarter 25-13 and imposed their will for a second straight game, basically leading wire-to-wire. Their victims during their current run include the Raptors, Celtics, Bucks and now the Spurs twice.

They’ve thrived despite shooting guard J.J. Redick missing time with a leg injury and backup point guards T.J. McConnell and Jeryd Bayless out. Bayless’ wrist may keep him sidelined on Sunday, but McConnell has returned. No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz also is working to get back from a shoulder injury that has sabotaged his rookie season.

Oklahoma City won the first meeting on Dec. 15 in Philly, 119-117 in triple-overtime. The Thunder overcame Westbrook shooting 10-for-33 from the field and 5-for-12 from the free-throw line on a bizarre night where he did collect 17 boards and 15 assists in playing 52 minutes. Adams played 51 minutes and “held” Embiid to 34 points, but OKC dominated with 18 offensive rebounds.

It remains to be seen if the Thunder have similar juice today as they play their third game in four nights while attempting to replace a crucial component. Sixers forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric shot 5-for-24 from 3-point range in that loss but have been playing extremely well of late. Young wing Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot has averaged 16 points over the last three games and didn’t even get off the bench for any of the 63 minutes the teams played just over six weeks ago.

These teams are currently among the league’s best this month, so it should be fun to see a rematch of their triple-overtime duel, which wasn’t well-played but was nonetheless compelling.

LeBron looks to go streaking

The Cavs (28-19, 13-33-1) pulled out a 115-108 win at home over Indiana on Friday to snap a two-game losing streak and win for only the fourth time in 14 games dating back to Christmas Day. It was only the second time Cleveland covered a point spread since Dec. 19, a 2-15 run that started on Dec. 19.

A win over the Pistons (22-25, 24-21-2) would give LeBron James and Co. consecutive victories for the first time since beating the Jazz and Wizards on Dec. 16-17. If they cover the number (8), it would give the Cavs back-to-back ATS wins for the first time since Nov. 27-28. They last covered a spread this large back in Isaiah Thomas’ debut on Jan. 2, beating Portland 127-110. That game represents the only double-digit win Cleveland has posted since Dec. 4.

Detroit has dropped seven straight, the league’s worst current run, but did get some hope from last night’s loss to the Thunder in that its bench outscored OKC 64-25, helping cut into a huge deficit while generating a few positives and keeping starters fresher for this one. Andre Drummond will try and make life difficult for the Cavs’ new starting center, Tristan Thompson, while former teammates and good friends Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley will duel for the first time.

The Pistons haven’t won in Cleveland since the opening game of their first-round series back in ’16, dropping eight of 10 overall. The Cavs won this season’s only meeting 116-88 on Nov. 20.

Pelicans pick up the pieces

New Orleans was able to close out arguably its most impressive win of the season after watching DeMarcus Cousins get helped off the floor with 10 seconds left, but it then quickly found out that there was no miracle close call to be had. Boogie had indeed torn his Achilles attempting to chase down his missed free throw in a 115-113 Pels’ win. He finished with a triple-double to help earn a season-best fourth straight win, but his injury puts a serious buzzkill on the entire season.

The Anthony Davis show is nothing new and the likeliest course of action since there isn’t much maneuver the front office can do, but that has only produced one playoff berth since he was drafted in 2012. Rajon Rondo started strong but can’t be counted on to physically bring it night after night until deep into March. Jrue Holiday and E’twuan Moore will have to carry even more of an offensive load and an a lack of frontcourt depth that was masked by having the most prolific big man combo in the game is about to be exposed.

February opens with five of seven on the road against some tough competition, so getting to the All-Star break without completely collapsing will be tough and likely requires home wins today against the Clippers and Tuesday against the lowly Kings.

L.A. has its star frontcourt combo back intact with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan having returned to the lineup, so despite currently being on the outside looking in among the Western Conference’s top eight, it can certainly make up some ground with New Orleans now vulnerable. The Pels won the first meeting between these teams 111-103 as Cousins dominated with 35 points and 15 rebounds. He’s irreplaceable, but the books can buy the theory that they’ll rally the troops in the short-term, installing New Orleans as a one-point home favorite.

Injury report

The Suns are expected to have Devin Booker available against Houston after he left Friday night's loss to the Knicks with a hand injury. Centers Tyson Chandler (illness) and Alex Len (ankle) are hoping to play, while forward Marquese Chriss has returned from his hip ailment. The Rockets, despite losing for only the second time in nine games, are back intact with a full roster. Houston has won four consecutive home games.

Reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon is questionable for Milwaukee's visit to Chicago with calf soreness. He missed Friday night's win over Brooklyn, where Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to the lineup after knee soreness to play his first game following Jason Kidd's firing. Interim head coach Joe Prunty will look to move to 3-0 by winning his first home game against a Bulls team still missing Kris Dunn (concussion) after his nasty fall that cost him some teeth and produced whiplash. Guard Zach LaVine is still working his way back on a minutes restriction. He played a season-high 26 in Friday's loss to the Lakers, but shot just 3-for-17.

The Lakers will remain without Lonzo Ball for at least another game or two, so he'll be sidelined for Sunday's date with the Raptors.

Kawhi Leonard (quad) is also still sidelined in San Antonio, but the Spurs could get back Manu Ginobili back from a right thigh contusion as they look to snap Sacramento's modest two-game winning streak. Forward Rudy Gay (heel) is out.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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