Next week, the Cleveland Cavaliers will welcome the Sixers in a showdown of two championship hopefuls.

While the Cavaliers have lived up to the sky-high pre-season expectations through the first month of the season, Joel Embiid and the 76ers are slowly but surely coming together after a sluggish start and injuries to Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey..

The 76ers lost each of their first three games of 2022-23, though two of those losses came at the hands of the Boston Celtics (Oct. 18) and the Milwaukee Bucks (Oct. 20). Those two clubs, of course, are widely considered the two front-runners to win the Eastern Conference.

Cleveland, of course, surpassed expectations in 2021-22 by finishing with 44 wins — marking the franchise’s first winning season without LeBron James on the roster in 24 years. GM Koby Altman made the ultimate win-now move by acquiring Utah Jazz superstar Donovan Mitchell in a blockbuster trade, providing his young core with a new go-to game-changer.

The state of Ohio is slated to launch mobile/online sports betting on Jan. 1, 2023. Cleveland, with their own DraftKings promo code in Ohio, and by Nov. 30 showdown at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse will be the first of three meetings between Philadelphia and Cleveland. The two clubs will square off in Philadelphia on Feb. 15 and again in Cleveland on Mar. 15.

How Both Teams Have Fared Thus Far

After dropping their season opener to the Toronto Raptors, the Cavaliers rallied for eight straight victories. This included statement wins against Boston on Oct. 28 and Nov. 2, both of which required overtime.

But the Cavaliers lost their momentum after heading over to the west coast for a road trip. They lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings and Warriors on the road before falling to the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Nov. 13. The losing skid hit five games when Cleveland fell to Milwaukee on Nov. 16.

The Cavs finally broke out of the slump by defeating the Charlotte Hornets 132-122 in overtime on Nov. 18, and the offense has retained its strong play since. Mitchell and youngsters Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, as expected, are all leading the way.

But veterans Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Cedi Osman and Kevin Love have provided ample secondary scoring. With tremendous roster depth, the Cavaliers definitely have the feel of a championship team.

After losing their first three games and four of their first five, the 76ers rebounded with three straight wins to get to .500. They have been a hot-and-cold team ever since, but injuries to James Harden (foot, out almost a month now) and Tyrese Maxey (out several more weeks with a fractured foot) haven’t helped matters.

We’ve seen what this Philadelphia team is capable of when healthy. The inconsistent play is obviously frustrating for fans, but once Harden and Maxey return, the stage will be set for the 76ers to reclaim their status as a force in the East.

Also, a rather friendly-looking schedule from now through the month of December certainly sparks reason for optimism that the 76ers will soon go on a run.

Prediction: Cavaliers Win 105-90

Without Maxey, the 76ers are greatly short-handed against the deeper Cavaliers. It’s unclear if they’ll have Harden for this one, but even if he is active, the 76ers will really have their work cut out for them here.

Both clubs have been among the NBA’s best in three-point shooting, but the Cavaliers still have a hefty advantage there. They can win with small ball or their big bodies, whereas the 76ers are going to be overly-reliant on Embiid and/or Harden to carry the offense without Maxey.

If Maxey was active for this game, the score prediction would be a lot closer. But the Cavaliers have the defensive personnel to limit the 76ers’ big bodies up front, and it’s why they should be able to cruise to a victory by double-digits.

In a potential 2023 playoff preview, it’s J. B. Bickerstaff and the Cavaliers who come out on top by a final score of 105-90.

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