Sixers at Pacers: Storylines for opener of Sixers' six-game road trip

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What you need to know for opener of Sixers' 6-game trip originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers have four road wins in five tries this season and would surely be thrilled if they sustain that success away from Wells Fargo Center on their six-game trip.

Here are the essentials for Game 1, a meeting with the 5-8 Pacers

  • When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. 

  • Where: Gainbridge Fieldhouse 

  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 

  • Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app 

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Rebounding problems 

In most key areas, the 2021-22 Sixers have either been top-notch or middle of the pack.

Rebounding is an exception. Sixers opponents have grabbed 29.6 percent of available offensive rebounds, per Cleaning the Glass, which ranks 28th in the NBA. 

“Honestly, I think we were in the fray today at least — I will say that,” head coach Doc Rivers said after the Sixers allowed the Raptors to grab 16 offensive boards in Thursday’s loss. “I thought they came up with three or four that I thought, we've got to get (them). But we’re just fighting our tails off, trying to do it better. … Dribble penetration, by the way. If you really want to stop offensive rebounds, stop dribble penetration.”

Indiana is seventh in the league in offensive rebounding percentage and will again challenge the Sixers on the glass. Andre Drummond can’t do it all. 

More manageable matchups 

Saturday will be Tobias Harris’ second game back after a six-game absence due to COVID-19.

It’s a good one to have him for, since the Pacers start the large Domantas Sabonis-Myles Turner frontcourt. If not for Harris, the Sixers likely would’ve needed to either start four perimeter players, begin with Paul Reed on one of Indiana’s two big men, or try a zone defense.

Reed has impressed recently, racking up 10 points, eight rebounds, six steals and three blocks in 37 minutes over the past two games, but Rivers obviously prefers using him off the bench and having a core player available in Harris. 

Of course, the Sixers still aren’t close to a full team. Joel Embiid and Matisse Thybulle remain out (health and safety protocols), along with Ben Simmons (personal reasons) and Grant Riller (left knee injury recovery). Isaiah Joe has cleared the NBA's protocols and is available. 

T.J. Warren (left navicular fracture) and Isaiah Jackson (left knee hyperextension) are out for the Pacers. Caris LeVert (back soreness) will play, Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle told reporters.

Road ahead isn’t easy 

It’s rarely wise for NBA teams to look into the future, but we’ll do it here on the Sixers’ behalf. 

After playing the Pacers, they’ll have two days between games for the first time this season, then play the Jazz. Next up are the Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Kings. The trip concludes with a matchup against the Warriors, who currently sport a league-best 11-1 record.

Though the Sixers have pulled off surprising, shorthanded wins, the idea of a loss Saturday (which would be the Sixers’ fourth straight) leading into those matchups with the Jazz and Nuggets can't be pleasant. Utah is 4-1 at home — the Pacers actually handed the Jazz that one loss Thursday — and Denver is 6-1 at home. 

Another possible variable to consider, one Rivers mentioned earlier this week, is that the high elevation the Sixers will soon play in isn’t ideal for a player like Harris trying to regain his conditioning post-COVID.