This is how bad it can be without Joel Embiid

This is how bad it can be without Joel Embiid

The 76ers missed Joel Embiid’s defensive presence Tuesday night, as the seven-footer was held out for a second straight game with back soreness since playing 48 minutes in last Friday’s triple-overtime loss to the Thunder (see story).

Zach Randolph took advantage of his absence, scoring 27 points as the Sixers blew a 16-point lead and lost to the Kings, 101-95, at home (see observations).

“We were going to start him out [on Randolph],” Brett Brown said of Embiid. “We learned later this afternoon that Joel was not going to play. I think it was about [2 p.m.] that we learned that and our intention was to start Joel on Zach. I think he did a pretty good job in Sacramento with his length. I’m sure that hurt us not having that defensive matchup.”

Without Embiid, Amir Johnson, Trevor Booker and Richaun Holmes were tasked with stopping Randolph all night. The Sixers took care of the Kings’ big men on the boards, outrebounding them, 53-39, but couldn’t stop their low-post game.

Randolph started off the game hot, finishing two and-one buckets and knocking down a three-pointer in the first quarter to spark the Kings' 15-11 start. The second quarter was a different story, as the Sixers held the veteran forward scoreless.

Brown credited Holmes for the defensive spark off the bench.

“I thought Richaun did a pretty good job of battling him in the first half,” Brown said. “Physically, like moving his feet and sort of chesting up and not forcing us to get into a scramble and double-team type mode.”

Johnson helped the Sixers extend their lead at the start of the second half, finishing multiple baskets at the rim to make it 65-49. However, Randolph responded with 10 points in the period and the Kings trimmed the Sixers’ big lead to just seven points by the start of the fourth.

“[We just have to] hope he misses,” T.J. McConnell said. “He’s a really good player and he’s been doing the same thing for a long time. We had a game plan for him, but it doesn’t always work out.

“Like I said, he’s a really good player, so he’s going to get to his spots, it’s just about making things tough for him.”

In the fourth quarter, the Sixers allowed Willie Cauley-Stein to score six points and grab a few rebounds down low, while Randolph’s jump shot over Ben Simmons with 2:02 left helped seal the Sixers’ seventh loss in their last eight games.

“[We miss Embiid] a lot every game [he's out],” Simmons said. “But you know, we've got to learn to play without him. When he’s in, it’s great, but when he’s not here, we still have to play and compete, which is what we do. But we have to learn how to close out games.”

Embiid remains doubtful, Fultz draws into rotation for Game 3

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Embiid remains doubtful, Fultz draws into rotation for Game 3

MIAMI — Joel Embiid remains doubtful leading up to Game 3 of the Sixers' first-round series against the Heat. 

An official decision does not have to be made until closer to the 7 p.m. start time. There is a possibility Embiid could go through pregame warmups before his availability is determined. The big man is sidelined by a left eye orbital fracture suffered March 28. 

“He went through stuff yesterday that was decent,” Brett Brown said Thursday before shootaround. “He had a little bit of contact, trying to get used to the mask, felt some bodies. But at this stage this morning, we are listing him as doubtful.” 

Embiid once again was taking threes before the start of shootaround. He posted he was "(expletive) sick and tired of being babied" on Instagram following the Sixers' Game 2 loss, their first since he was injured. The series is tied 1-1. 

If Embiid does not play, the Sixers could start either Amir Johnson (Game 1 starter) or Ersan Ilyasova (Game 2 starter). Heat center Hassan Whiteside was unfazed by the uncertainty of the matchup. 

“I’m not even thinking about what Philly’s doing,” Whiteside said. “I’m just thinking about what the Heat’s doing.” 

One decision the Sixers have made is to play Markelle Fultz more in Game 3. He had been receiving Ben Simmons’ backup minutes but was on the court for less than five minutes in Monday’s loss. Brown cited the physicality of the game as the reason he went with T.J. McConnell instead. 

“I will go back to Markelle,” Brown said. “He deserves the opportunity to play basketball in that role again. … My belief is that he will learn from the last situation.” 

Brown will watch to see how Fultz is getting into the paint, handling pressure and is getting the Sixers into their offense. Fultz is looking to be a playmaker and use his length as an advantage on defense. 

“I just want to go out there and play as hard as I can,” Fultz said.

Sixers bringing 'bunker mentality' into road playoff setting

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Sixers bringing 'bunker mentality' into road playoff setting

You’ve witnessed the Miami scenes. 

The pristine beaches, exciting nightlife, eclectic cuisine. The list goes on.

It all adds up to one of the best destination experiences in the United States.

And the Sixers don’t want anything to do with it.

This is a business trip.

Scratch that. This is battle.

“It just becomes, I think, a little bit more insular, a little bit more of a bunker mentality,” Brett Brown said at Wednesday’s practice. “It’s a little bit more of trying to minimize distractions. You’re not in your own bedroom. You’re not in your own sort of comfort zone, your own routine, rhythm to your day.

“It’s a huge part of young players figuring out life on the road and it certainly gets exacerbated in the playoffs. But I like it. I like the mentality and the spirit of being together. I think we have a very close team and I think it forces you to become even closer when you’re just not at home.”

Games 3 and 4 inside AmericanAirlines Arena will feel like anywhere but home for the Sixers. In the first road playoff game for this young team, the players will have to deal with crowd noise and an extremely physical opponent.

The volume will subside as the Sixers are able to string together baskets, and they know the only way to do that is take the smart approach to the Heat’s increased physicality.

“It doesn’t have to be macho vs. macho,” Brown said. “That’s not how we want to play. We want to have an intellectual response to physicality. It can mean speed, it can mean space, it can mean the technique of just creating a lead and getting open. A simple jab step and putting your arm in somebody’s chest and throwing out a lead hand as an example of stuff you’d learn in eighth grade. But it all equals fundamentals, poise, technique, that stuff to combat physicality.

“It’s not they punch you, you punch them, they punch … it’s not that at all."

“You don’t want to do anything that can put yourself in a predicament, allow someone to get hurt,” Robert Covington said. “Nobody wants to get fined, nobody wants to be on the back end of something like that because it can be retaliation that can come from it. You have to play smart and just have to sit up here and do it different ways. You cannot get caught up in the moment and do something crazy.”

Whatever physical tactics the Heat attempt, the Sixers promise they’ll be ready this time around.

“I’ve got a few hits for people coming their way,” Ben Simmons said.

“I’m ready to play.”