Sixers vs. Hawks: Tyler Johnson might make his Sixers (and season) debut

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'Philly Christmas doesn't sound that bad' for new Sixer Tyler Johnson originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

With a win Thursday night, the Sixers would earn a 3-0 regular-season series sweep over the Hawks and head into Christmas on a positive note.

Here are the essentials:

  • When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:15 p.m. 

  • Where: Wells Fargo Center 

  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 

  • Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app 

And here’s more on the matchup: 

COVID still playing huge role 

As is the norm these days in sports and society, COVID-19 will have a large impact on Thursday’s contest.

Danny Green was placed in health and safety protocols on Wednesday. He joined Andre Drummond, Shake Milton and Georges Niang in the protocols. Ben Simmons (personal reasons) was the only other Sixer on the NBA’s injury report.

The Hawks’ Trae Young, Clint Capela, Lou Williams, Kevin Huerter, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Danilo Gallinari are all in health and safety protocols.

Despite a career-high 34 points from Cam Reddish and a 28-point, 12-rebound night by John Collins, Atlanta lost Wednesday to the Magic. The Hawks started Gorgui Dieng at center and opened with a Skylar Mays-Delon Wright backcourt.

‘Philly Christmas doesn’t sound that bad’ 

It’s possible Tyler Johnson plays his first NBA game since appearing in the Nets’ Game 6 Eastern Conference semifinals loss last season to the Bucks.

The 29-year-old guard is just the third player to sign a 10-day contract with the Sixers over the past four seasons. With the NBA creating new replacement player rules in response to the COVID-19 surge across the league, plenty of players have made their season debuts in recent days. 

Johnson, who said Sixers head coach Doc Rivers “just told me to come in and play basketball,” was focused on being a father to his two children and staying sharp with on-court workouts and conditioning. Then the Sixers called and his world shifted.

“I found out on the day Philly played the Celtics, when they traveled to Boston,” Johnson said following the Sixers’ shootaround Thursday morning. “I thought I was going to have to jump on a plane within the next hour.

“But fortunately enough, I was able to get my boys settled. From my end, I was thinking I’m spending Christmas with my boys. Now I think Philly Christmas doesn’t sound that bad. So I jumped on a plane that night and was able to get in here and get a couple of shots up." 

Corey Brewer set the bar high for Sixers on 10-day deals, thrilling fans in early 2019 with irritating, whole-hearted defense on James Harden and boundless energy. Now it’s Johnson who wants to earn something more than 10 days back in the NBA. 

“Any time you step on the court, you’re looking at it as a statement,” he said. “If you’re here and you’re just like, 'I’m just happy for the opportunity,' it’s probably going to fizzle out as quickly as it came. … That was probably the part I missed over these past couple months of not playing, just the competitive aspect and being able to go out there and lace them up against somebody else.”

Slightly more robust bench 

The Sixers should be less desperate for ball handling than they were during Monday night's win over Boston. 

Tyrese Maxey wasn’t on the injury report, indicating he’s set to return from a two-game absence with a left quad contusion. His availability decreases the odds of a Johnson debut.

Furkan Korkmaz, who missed three games with a non-COVID illness, is also healthy again. Korkmaz said Thursday morning he was in his bed for almost two days because of the illness.

The Sixers’ reinforcements could lead to a few more decisions for Rivers than against the Celtics, a game in which four starters played at least 40 minutes. Isaiah Joe was the Sixers’ sixth man the past two games, totaling 51 minutes and scoring the team’s lone second-unit point on Monday.