76ers

Brett Brown: Jahlil Okafor 'not in the rotation'

Brett Brown: Jahlil Okafor 'not in the rotation'

CAMDEN, N.J. — It’s almost Halloween, and like a ghost, Jahlil Okafor has been invisible through the Sixers' first five games.

And don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

After practice Friday, head coach Brett Brown admitted that the former No. 3 pick is “not in the rotation.”

“I’m playing Amir (Johnson) ahead of him and that’s just the situation,” Brown said. “[Okafor] doesn’t let people know. He comes in and his head’s good and his spirit’s good. And he and I talk all the time, but that is the bottom line. He is not in the rotation.”

Okafor — who was not made available to the media Friday — has appeared in just one game this season, the second game of a back-to-back when Joel Embiid was unavailable. Okafor played 22 minutes, contributing 10 points on 4 for 7 shooting, nine rebounds and two blocks — an encouraging sign — in the Sixers’ lopsided loss to the Raptors. 

Not bad. So what’s the deal?

Right now — and for well into the foreseeable future — Johnson is the go-to guy when Embiid is on the bench. 

“I think it’s going to be Amir’s spot to lose,” Brown said. “If I see that there’s a decline in performance, then it’s going to be his spot right now to lose. It’s always competitive, but the competitive nature has shifted toward Amir’s performance." 

The Sixers have to make a decision by Oct. 31 whether or not to pick up Okafor's fourth-year option of $6.3 million for next season. According to ESPN's Chris Haynes, the Sixers are still trying to trade Okafor and their decision with his option is based on how those talks develop. 

Johnson hasn’t exactly been lights-out when filling in for Embiid. Johnson, who signed a one-year, $11 million deal with the Sixers in July, has appeared in all five games but is averaging just 3.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game on 30 percent from the field. 

With Johnson struggling and trade-bait Okafor toiling away on the bench, why not give the newly slimmed down Okafor a look? He can’t be much worse than Johnson, and if the Sixers are willing to trade Okafor — as they have made very apparent in the past — they’ll need to showcase him to garner any interest in the third-year pro. 

But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Brown and Co. In fact, Dario Saric seems to even be ahead of Okafor right now (see mailbag). The Sixers have used Saric sparingly at times this season in the five-spot when Embiid or Johnson get into foul trouble. With Ben Simmons a giant at point guard, it’s like a twisted version of small ball. 

Saric has struggled with the adjustment, and he failed to score for the first time in his career in Wednesday’s loss to the Rockets. Saric seemed outmatched physically and was a liability on defense, as James Harden drove to the basket with ease. Brown took the blame for that one but seems committed to giving Saric a try down low. 

“Like the other night (vs. Houston) was such an outlier, where there was so much switching,” Brown said. ... “At times that doesn’t favor him with some of those guys, (Eric) Gordon and Harden, driving Dario Saric is not, really at times, wise for me to put him in that position.

“I think at times (Dario)’s also trying to juggle the four-spot and the intellect now of the five, when we get in foul trouble and other circumstances. I like playing him at some five because he can pull people out. The knowledge base of what that means from a structural standpoint and a play-call standpoint, it’s a different position and sometimes I think that that weighs on his mind too much, where he’s not playing as free.”

Johnson and Saric don't seem like a reliable duo to back up Embiid — especially with the limited minutes and games Embiid typically plays. But help is on the way.

Richuan Holmes, dealing with a fractured wrist, is inching back and has been cleared to practice on a limited basis. He will be reevaluated next Thursday.

“I think we’re gonna have another conversation soon, here comes Richaun — and here we go again," Brown said. "And that’s a good thing. It’s pro sports and it’s my job to figure it out.”

With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Sixers’ big men, one thing is clear: So long as Embiid is playing (fingers crossed), we won’t be seeing Okafor anytime soon as Brown looks to solidify his rotation as the season gets underway.

“But all coaches seek a level of consistency with rotation, you don’t want to get into a juggling act,” Brown said. “You want to get into some type of symmetry with who you’re playing and how you’re playing them, and have some type of semblance of order in what they can expect from a rotation standpoint."

Joel Embiid ready for home playoff debut, says Sixers' 'time is now'

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Joel Embiid ready for home playoff debut, says Sixers' 'time is now'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid received a text message from across the NBA following the Sixers’ 27-point win over the Heat in Game 1. 

It was from Draymond Green, sending his championship-winning insight. 

“Draymond texted me after the first game when we blew Miami out,” Embiid recalled Monday. “He basically told me that it’s not going to be the same in Game 2. They came back and they won that game.” 

Green was right. Each contest has been a match of adjustments, including Embiid’s return from a 10-game layoff. Wearing a required mask with goggles, Embiid played in the Sixers’ Game 3 and Game 4 victories. 

Now he’s poised to make his postseason home debut Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center, where he’s been eager to compete in a playoff game his entire career. 

“The atmosphere was amazing, it was insane,” Embiid said of the home crowd in Games 1 and 2. “After going to Miami, I felt like nothing compared to it. … We’ve been almost perfect [at home] since the beginning of the year. It just shows you how much we need them. Especially myself, I play better in that type of environment. I need the fans to get into it and push me. That makes me elevate my game.” 

Embiid’s offensive game has been impacted since coming back from a concussion and left orbital fracture suffered on March 28. He scored 23 points (5 for 11 FG) with seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and three turnovers in Game 3. The following game, he posted 14 points (2 for 11 FG, 0 for 4 from three), 12 rebounds, five blocks and eight turnovers. Embiid is shooting 31.8 percent from the field and 71.4 percent from the line in the series. 

“The main thing, especially when it (the offense) doesn’t go my way, is just be a beast defensively,” he said. 

Embiid cannot play without the protective mask, though, which he has described as “annoying” and “weird.” Markelle Fultz and Amir Johnson tried on the goggles after practice Monday to get a glimpse into his line of vision. 

“They kind of saw my pain when I have to wear them,” Embiid said. “But that can’t be an excuse. I have to get used to it.” 

Embiid’s mindset going into Game 5 is to close out the Heat series and get some extra time before the second round (see story). The Celtics and Bucks series is tied 2-2. He sees the first round as just the starting point for the Sixers’ postseason. 

“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Embiid said. “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far. 

"So it’s just about us taking care of the little things, like not turning the ball over, just playing together, like we've been doing, sharing the ball, not be selfish, and everything is going to take care of itself." 

Embiid will take the court for his first postseason game in Philadelphia when the Sixers tip off against the Heat at 8 p.m. Tuesday on NBCSP.

"The playoffs, that’s kind of like you play in front of the whole world," Embiid said. "I feel like I thrive in that type of situation because I feel like I was made for this." 

Sixers know what must be done to knock out Heat

Sixers know what must be done to knock out Heat

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers have pushed the Heat to the brink of elimination and now they are hunkering down for yet another battle in this hard-fought first-round matchup. 

The Sixers do not anticipate closing out the series Tuesday night at home to be any easier than the first four grind-it-out games. 

“You don’t have to be a wise man to know what is about to happen, what style of play they’re going to try to play,” Brett Brown said before practice Monday. “Especially when they’re going to go home if they’re not able to find a win. We understand that.”

The Sixers are returning to the Wells Fargo Center up 3-1 after completing the challenging task of taking two straight games on the road. As they prepare for what could be a deciding game, they are focused on fixing their mistakes from the previous ones. The Sixers overcame giving up 30 points on 27 turnovers, shooting 7 for 31 from three, and trailing by 12 in Game 4. 

“I said it after the game and I’ll say it again now: we were very fortunate to win that game,” Brown said. “The discipline that we did not show offensively and defensively in the first three periods, especially as I go back and watch it, can’t happen.” 

Regardless of the final score, the Heat have proven to be a feisty squad each night. The tussle between Robert Covington, James Johnson and Ben Simmons exemplified the spirit of the series. The teams were whistled for a combined 10 technical fouls in Games 3 and 4. 

Goran Dragic said the Heat are not going to show up at the Wells Fargo Center to surrender. The Sixers don’t anticipate them to, either. 

“A team like Miami, their culture, their organization, their group of guys, they have fighters, they have warriors on their team,” JJ Redick said. “Every game in this series has been tough. There’s no expectations that Game 5 will be any different.”

The Sixers have not advanced out of the first round since 2012, the last time they were in the playoffs. With a 3-1 lead, their objective Tuesday is clear. 

“Our mindset is to close it out,” Joel Embiid said.