76ers

More questions than answers with Markelle Fultz shoulder saga

More questions than answers with Markelle Fultz shoulder saga

The Sixers are unfortunately in familiar territory.

No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz will be shut down for at least the next three games with a shoulder injury. That's not the only thing that's familiar. The circumstances surrounding Fultz's injury are flat out weird.

First, his agent said Tuesday that Fultz had his shoulder drained. He then came back out and said Fultz actually had a cortisone shot.

It may be optimistic to say Fultz will be ready to go after his three-game absence, but head coach Brett Brown said he sees this situation as a good thing.

"I'm glad for him," Brown said before Wednesday's game against the Rockets. "I think we all understand that there were some things going on and I feel like this is a time where he can take a deep breath. We can help move forward I think in a cleaner way. I'm looking at this as a positive."

Fultz's shot has been an interesting topic of conversation. His struggles with it have been evident as the rookie has shot just 33.0 percent from the field in four games. The 19-year-old guard shot 41.3 percent from three at Washington, but did struggle somewhat at the line, shooting 64.9 percent.

So was it Fultz who decided to change his shot mechanics, hoping to improve, or was it the shoulder injury that caused the change?

"There's no doubt that Markelle, in the goodness of his heart and trying to do the right thing, tried to readjust his shot," Brown said. "He historically has been a left hip guy and [not shoot with his feet square to the basket]. On his own he decided, with some help, to be able to try and improve it." 

If there's someone who can feel Fultz's pain, it's Joel Embiid. The Sixers' star big man missed his first two seasons with a broken navicular bone. He was then subject to a minutes restriction during a 31-game rookie season that ended prematurely with a torn meniscus. 

Embiid has talked to Fultz about his situation and has told the rookie to keep his head up.

"He's been trying to stay positive," Embiid said. "Obviously he's been dealing with that since the summer. I think I'm the best one that can help him just because I've gone through that. Then the media perception and also the fans, I've gone through all that and I've been around him a lot."

One thing is for sure, Embiid can't wait to see his new teammate back on the court.

"I can't wait to play with him because I think me and him in the pick-and-roll is going to be unstoppable because I think that's going to be where it's going to help us a lot," Embiid said.

We're left with so many questions, even after speaking to president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and Brown. 

Why did Fultz want to fix his shot, part of the reason he became the first overall pick? When did he start to experience pain in his shoulder? When they saw Fultz struggling so much with his shot, why did the team continue to play him? How much time will he miss?

"The kid is a baller. He can really play," Brown said. "I think as time unfolds we're going to feel this out a little more. We have a very aggressive plan for him in place as he comes with us and continues to be a part of our team."

Sixers have already embraced key aspects of NBA postseason

Sixers have already embraced key aspects of NBA postseason

Perhaps the Sixers have been underestimated a bit.

Outside of Joel Embiid’s health, all of the chatter going into the playoffs was about how the relatively inexperienced roster would handle the big stage. 

Sure, the team has a crop of veterans that have been there and done that. However, young impact players such as Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric were all getting their first taste of the postseason.

So how are they feeling about it to this point?

“I love it,” Embiid said at Friday’s practice. “I live for these moments. I thrive in this type of atmosphere. I think I was built for this, especially playoff basketball.”

Embiid appears particularly fond of the postseason in environments where the Sixers are short on support.

After missing the first two games of the series in Philadelphia while still recovering from orbital fracture surgery, Embiid stepped back into the starting lineup on the road in Miami.

Was getting barked at by rowdy fans in hostile territory going to be a problem? Not for the villain now known as “The Phantom of the Process.”

“I actually think I play better on the road because I just love the atmosphere,” Embiid said. “I just love looking around the arena, people booing, people going against us. That just takes my game to another level.”

The Sixers’ performance isn’t the only thing that has been taken up a notch. Their intensity level and physicality have jumped in this first-round matchup with the bruising Heat.

“I said it before, I wish it was like this all season,” said Simmons, who is averaging 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game in the series. “I’m enjoying it. It’s very competitive and that’s the type of basketball I want to play.”

“It’s basketball. It’s fun,” Justin Anderson said. “Playing like that is fun. Every possession matters. You can tell there’s not a lot of empty possessions. Guys are getting shots up on every possession.

“… It’s intensified. It’s just basketball. It’s the best basketball in the world, and we’re putting ourselves in a position to hopefully go and get another one in Game 4.”

Heat's Justise Winslow fined $15K for stepping on Joel Embiid's mask

Heat's Justise Winslow fined $15K for stepping on Joel Embiid's mask

The NBA dished out some swift justice on Friday night.

Heat swingman Justise Winslow was fined $15,000 by the league for unsportsmanlike conduct after intentionally stepping on and attempting to damage Joel Embiid’s mask during the Sixers’ Game 3 win in Miami (see story).

With 7:51 remaining in the second quarter, the goggles portion of Embiid’s mask fell onto the court. Winslow stepped on the goggles with his left foot before picking them up and trying to break them with his hands.

“He kept throwing it on the ground, so I don’t know if he didn’t like it or what,” Winslow said. “But I was talking to JoJo, we were smack talking, trash talking, going back and forth. No love lost.”

The incident definitely didn’t stop Embiid in his postseason debut. The big man returned from orbital surgery to put up 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the Sixers’ 128-108 victory.

“Justise stepped on it and tried to break it with his hands,” Embiid said. “But little do they know is that I have about 50 of them. So it’s going to take much more than that to get me out of the series. 

“I’m going to be a nightmare for them, too.”