How to manage Joel Embiid's health while pushing for playoffs

How to manage Joel Embiid's health while pushing for playoffs

CAMDEN, N.J. — In some ways, Joel Embiid is a dream to coach. You can go to him in the post whenever you need a bucket, rely on him to erase defensive mistakes, sit back and watch as he takes over games.

But in other ways, coaching Embiid is not an easy job. Brett Brown has to constantly weigh Embiid’s health with the immediate desire to win. That balancing act has never been more difficult for Brown, who commented Wednesday on how he plans to manage Embiid with the playoffs in sight.

“Everything is still, and it should be, delivering him to a playoff round,” Brown said. “It’s not cramming for the exam and doing whatever you can to get home court, it’s not that at all. And so I feel like the path that we’re all on is both professional and responsible. So it’s that more than trying to cram for an exam.”

The Sixers have six back-to-back sets in their final 27 games. Embiid played his first ever back-to-back on Feb. 2 vs. Miami and Feb. 3 at Indiana. Since then, he’s had an injury scare with his right knee (on Feb. 10 vs the Clippers) and missed the Sixers’ final game before the All-Star break with a sore right ankle.

That said, Embiid’s obviously taken major steps forward. After being sidelined for his first two NBA seasons and playing just 31 games (and only 25.4 minutes per game) in his rookie year, he’s played in 44 of the Sixers’ first 55 games, and is averaging 31.4 minutes per game.

But the Sixers are 3-8 when Embiid doesn’t play. Without Embiid, the Sixers don’t look like a playoff team. With him, they look like a team which could earn home-court advantage. The Sixers are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference at 30-25, two games behind the fourth-seeded Washington Wizards.

When asked how he’ll generally manage his players’ minutes in the final third of the season, Brown referred to his time as a Spurs assistant, implying that the Sixers will approach things more aggressively than a championship contender.

“In my old life, when you felt like you were going to be in the finals and win a championship, you definitely started managing stuff differently in this final third,” Brown said. “That’s not where we’re at now. We are fighting to get in the playoffs.

“And we’re in a fist fight, we want a little bit more than that. And we’re going to play with that in mind, and when the opportunity arises when I can rest some of our guys, I will. But it’s not about being conservative right now or feeling like we’re entitled and we’re in the playoffs; we aren’t. So we’re still fighting to do that, and I’ll coach it accordingly.”

It might sound like there’s a contradiction between that desire to fight for the postseason and Brown’s goal of “delivering [Embiid] to a playoff round.” The Sixers probably need Embiid to play the majority of their final 27 games to make the playoffs in the first place. On the other hand, nothing in Embiid’s past suggests that he’s capable of playing all six remaining back-to-backs and suiting up fully healthy in Game 1 of the postseason.

The key for Brown is finding the perfect middle ground between riding Embiid hard every night and babying his 7-foot-2 star to the detriment of the team. With the playoffs finally in sight after five seasons of processing, that’s going to be one of Brown’s greatest challenges in the home stretch.  

Western Conference streaks give Sixers a boost

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Western Conference streaks give Sixers a boost

SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge had 27 points and nine rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs won their fifth straight, 98-90 over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

San Antonio remained in sixth place in the Western Conference, one-half game behind fourth-place Oklahoma City. The Spurs close out a six-game homestand on Friday against Utah, which is 1 games behind San Antonio in eighth place.

Bradley Beal and Kelly Oubre Jr. each had 21 points to lead the Wizards, who dropped into sixth in the Eastern Conference.

San Antonio's winning streak follows a 3-11 skid that briefly dropped the Spurs out of playoff position.

Aldridge has been critical to the turnaround, averaging 29.6 points and 9.2 rebounds during the streak.

Against Washington, Aldridge scored nine points during a 23-9 run that gave San Antonio a 17-point lead with four minutes left in the third quarter.

Without injured All-Star John Wall, the Wizards were unable to answer (see full recap).

Davis, Pelicans outlast Pacers for 3rd straight win
NEW ORLEANS -- Anthony Davis capped a 28-point, 13-rebound, five-block performance with a 15-foot baseline fade, a gritty put-back and two free throws in the final minute, and the New Orleans Pelicans outlasted the Indiana Pacers 96-92 on Wednesday night.

E'Twaun Moore scored 23 for New Orleans, which had to overcome a scrappy defensive effort by Indiana to win its third straight.

The Pelicans, who average nearly 112 points per game, were limited to 43 percent (34 of 79) accuracy by the Pacers, who also turned 20 New Orleans turnovers into 15 points.

The Pacers shot only 36.6 percent (34 of 93), but kept the game close with 15 offensive rebounds and 17 second-chance points.

Neither team led by more than six, and the game was tied at 87 with 1:49 left, after Victor Oladipo's block of Jrue Holiday sent Darren Collison away for a fast-break layup as he was fouled by Moore.

Moore put back his own miss with 1:24 to play to put the Pelicans back in front, and after Oladipo was called for a travel with 1:12 to go, Davis hit his clutch fade in front of the Pacers' bench, holding his right arm up triumphantly as the shot went down (see full recap).

Howard has historic night in Hornets’ comeback
NEW YORK -- Dwight Howard had 32 points and 30 rebounds, becoming the first player with a 30-30 game against the Nets since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1978, and the Charlotte Hornets stormed back to beat Brooklyn 111-105 on Wednesday night.

Kemba Walker scored 10 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter for the Hornets, who trailed by as many 23 points in the second half to win in front of an announced crowd of 10,231 at Barclay Center while a heavy snowfall outside blanketed the New York City area.

Trailing 105-102 with 2:14 left in regulation, the Hornets went on a 9-0 run to pull off the impressive comeback.

Jeremy Lamb, who had 17 points to help end Charlotte's two-game losing streak, made a layup to cut the deficit to 105-104. The Hornets then called a timeout after a miss by Caris LeVert with 23 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Walker spun around Quincy Acy and capped a three-point play to put Charlotte up 107-105, the Hornets' first lead of the night since a 16-15 advantage with 5:46 in the opening quarter.

LeVert missed a chance to tie it when he was met by Howard under the basket. Howard then hit a pair of free throws to make it 109-105.

D'Angelo Russell scored 19 points and LeVert added 11 for the Nets, whose two-game winning streak was cut short. They have yet to have won three consecutive this season (see full recap).

Robert Covington shoveled snow before Sixers' win

Robert Covington shoveled snow before Sixers' win

Did you hire someone to shovel out your driveway in Winter Storm Toby?

Robert Covington didn’t. 

“I shoveled my driveway and the sidewalk and my walkway,” Covington said following the Sixers' 119-105 win over the Grizzlies on Wednesday (see observations). “[It took me] about 20 minutes. It wasn’t that bad because the snow wasn’t really heavy and it wasn’t sticking, so I just kind of, in and out.” 

The thing is, Covington actually likes to shovel snow. It’s a task he grew up doing during the winters in Illinois and one that taught him the value of hard work. He shoveled to help his family and elderly neighbors who needed a hand. 

“The responsibility that my parents instilled in me was, when you’re told to do something, you’ve got to make sure you handle your business and you have to do it at a certain level,” Covington said. 

Covington, who signed a $60 million contract this season, easily could have hired a snow removal service to help him get to the game on time. But there was something he liked about taking care of it.  

“I’ve always done it myself,” Covington said. “It kind of gives you a sense of still working and still doing the simple things. Everybody tells me I could have paid someone to do it, one of the kids in the neighborhood, but it wasn’t about that. It was just something quick. I chose to go out there and do it, knock it out.”

The snow didn't slow down Covington at all. He scored 15 points in less than 23 minutes, shooting an efficient 6 for 9 from the field and 3 for 4 from three. 

So given how well he played following the shoveling, did he stumble upon a new pregame routine?

“No,” Covington said with a laugh. “I won’t continue to do that because I kind of got a little sniffles while I was out there. No, I won’t be out doing that too much because I don’t want to get sick.”