The Sixers return to action tonight after nine days off for the All Star break against the Brooklyn Nets at 8pm at The Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers currently sit at 34-21 and fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings. The team went in to the break on somewhat of a high note, defeating the robot Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers on February 12th. Brett Brown made the decision prior to the Clippers game to move Al Horford out of the starting lineup and seemed to have been a big factor in the success the team had, at least for one night. Since then, Coach Brett Brown has announced that, at least for now Horford, the $109 million dollar man, will remain on the bench.

As the team starts their 27 game stretch run tonight, here are five story lines that you should keep an eye on.

1. Al Horford coming off the bench:

What impact will this have? Can this be the difference maker?

  • "Spacing" should be the word of the 2019-2020 Sixers season. It has been used at nausea. The "Bully Ball" the organization sold us on prior to the start of the season has yet to truly flex any of its muscle. When Horford, Embiid, Simmons all share the floor together, the numbers are frightening. As we all know, Embiid must have his space, especially around the rim and the blocks. Simmons of course, strictly attacks the lane and doesn't take shots outside of 6-7 feet. Because of this, Horford has been exiled to the 3 point line. Taking 220 3 point attempts already this season, eclipsing his mark of 203 attempts the entire 2018-2019 season. The "Big 3" of Horford/Embiid/Simmons have an offensive rating of 98 in minutes played together. The worst team offensive rating? The Golden State Warriors with a rating of 103. (Derek Bodner, The Athletic) The bottom line is this, this move is an absolute necessity for this team to have any chance at a deep playoff run. Will it be the difference maker? Only time will tell

2. Who will be the "new" 5th starter?

Is Korkmaz the answer?

  • The Sixers had some success in the last three games before the All Star break with Furkan Korkmaz as the starter. With Horford to the bench, that immediately relieves some of the "spacing" and clunky issues this team has. Add in a "bomber" as Brown likes to say, in Korkmaz, and that could prove to be the right piece to this new starting lineup puzzle. Tim Legler, NBA ESPN Insider, joined us on the "Sportsbash" last week and made a great point. Legler said that "Korkmaz is at his best in a limited type of role", AKA coming off the bench. I do agree with that, but I am intrigued to see if Korkmaz can sort of step up and provide this team with a legitimate threat from beyond the arc in that starting 5 unit. You can start and still player "bench player minutes".  If Korkmaz does not prove to be the guy, I would bet that Glenn Robinson III could be in that new role. Robinson III provides some length and ability to defend and knock down the 3 when called upon. Robinson averages 12.7 PPG and 39.5% from 3 while Korkmaz averages 9.6 PPG and 39.2% from 3.

3. Matisse Thybulle and his progression

  • This is only a positive just to be clear. I think most of us could not have predicted the impact that Thybulle has already had in his rookie season. I jokingly have called Matisse "Kawhi Thybulle". Just because of his instincts and athletic ability that can't be taught on the defensive end. Its clear the locker room loves playing with him, especially Ben. The bad of Matisse has been his inability to shoot the ball. If he can show some growth on the offensive end and be able to prove he has the ability to be consistent to knock down some open looks, he could be the X factor this team.

4. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons: This is an obvious. Can Embiid stay healthy? Are they capable of consistently dominating down the stretch to prove to be "the guy" in the postseason? Can they have the chemistry that is required out of an elite duo?

  • With all the question marks and concerns surrounding this team, the bottom line is Joel Embiid. Most importantly he needs to stay healthy and available. If that can happen, he needs to look in the mirror and find himself. I am sick of hearing him say in various post game pressers that he is unhappy. Go talk trash on Instagram, slide in DMs, do whatever you gotta do. I want to see Embiid demand the ball if he has to, and make the team adjust to him. As it relates to Simmons, I have liked what I have seen overall this year. Ben has shown growth in his basketball IQ especially on the defensive side of the ball. Simmons has to stay aggressive and continue to impact games "off the ball" as we have seen at times this season.

5. What impact will Alec Burcs and Glenn Robinson III have? 

  • Burks is averaging 15.8 Points per game, 4.6 Rebounds, 3.1 assists with the Golden State Warriors this season.
  • Robinson III: As mentioned earlier in the article, averaging 12.7 PPG.
  • The biggest question, is how does that translate here in Philly? Burks averaged 29 minutes per game in Golden State, with the green light to fire away like its a rec league game. Same with Robinson III, he averaged 32 minutes per game in Golden State with that same green light and freedom. I expect Burks to be around 15-20 minutes a game with the Sixers and probably around the same for Robinson III. Can they adjust and play meaningful, efficient minutes? If so, that adds major depth to a post season rotation.

6. Road Woes

  • 9-19. One more time, 9-19. That is the same road record as the New York Knicks. In an essentially wide open race from the 2nd to the 6th seed, the team has to figure out how to be better on the road. If it is more of the same, they will finish in the 5th or 6th spot, which will make a deep playoff run very challenging.

It is going to be one entertaining 27 game stretch either way, and it all starts tonight.