When the Philadelphia 76ers play at the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night, there will essentially be one chase going on -- and it has nothing to do with the playoffs.
Philadelphia (49-28) is mostly entrenched as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, 3.5 games ahead of the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers with five games to go. Their big-picture plan is to get ready for the playoffs, which is why center Joel Embiid is sitting out and resting his sore left knee on this three-game road trip, which ends against the Hawks.
The 76ers got wiped out 122-102 Monday night in Dallas when they also were missing Jimmy Butler because of back tightness. He was listed as questionable to play against Atlanta, but Sixers coach Brett Brown said on this trip he's not ready to make wholesale decisions on load management.
"I stand by what I have been saying in that once we have secured the third seed ... then I think we can pivot and assess now what," he told Philly.com.
Atlanta's Trae Young can't rest at all.
The Hawks (28-50) have long been out of postseason contention, but their rookie guard has been closing the gap on the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic in the race to win NBA Rookie of the Year honors.
For what it's worth, Brown -- who coached the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons -- was asked by a reporter in Dallas if he thought Doncic was this season's top rookie.
"In my opinion," Brown replied.
Doncic seemed anointed as the winner early in the season, but Young had been averaging 25.1 points and 9.3 assists since the All-Star break before being slowed Tuesday night in a 117-111 loss at the San Antonio Spurs.
Young had 15 points and six assists, shooting 5 of 15 from the field and missing all six of his attempts from beyond the arc. He didn't commit a turnover in 29 minutes.
Atlanta had some mismatched pieces Tuesday night as it played without John Collins (rest) and Taurean Prince (foot), among others.
"It was a great team effort," said guard Kent Bazemore, who came off the bench to score 26 points. "Coach (Lloyd Pierce) alluded to it after the game, bringing in some guys from the G League and some 10-day guys ... and we just let it all hang out."
Young, who hasn't missed a game all season, has four games left to make an impression. Doncic has missed seven games, including the past two, and might sit out again Wednesday night against Minnesota.
The Hawks are 2-1 against the 76ers this season, including a 129-127 home victory on March 23, when Young had 32 points and 11 assists.
"We clipped Philly last time, so I'm sure they are going to come in with a little bit of vengeance," Bazemore said on Fox Sports Southeast.
"With a couple of games left in the season, they are trying to be in the best position they can. At the same time, we're still trying to play spoiler and have a bunch of guys finish the season strong."
--Field Level Media
Hawks still battling as they face Sixers