76ers

Sixers miss Joel Embiid's presence in 2nd night of back-to-back set

Sixers miss Joel Embiid's presence in 2nd night of back-to-back set

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BOSTON — Joel Embiid hopes to be cleared for back-to-backs sooner rather than later this season. But he’s not there yet, and so the Sixers have to continue to learn to play without him.

Each one of their three games minus the big man has taught them lessons. Thursday’s loss to the league-leading Celtics shined light on ways to improve on both ends.

“It’s tough because you get into a rhythm and then he’s not there,” Ben Simmons said after the Sixers’ 108-97 loss (see observations)

The Sixers are 1-2 without Embiid this season. The most glaring void is his offensive production, a team-high 22.9 points. It’s not just that Embiid can score; he can create his own opportunities to do so down low. Amir Johnson (six points, six rebounds, four assists) got the nod to start, but his game is more defensive-minded than Embiid’s versatile shot arsenal.

“We miss him in the sense that when our offense gets stagnant, we can always kind of throw him the ball and get a bucket,” JJ Redick (17 points, five assists) said. “Tonight, I thought we moved the ball well, we shot the ball well from three, but we could have for sure used him at times — obviously, all the time — but at times just to kind of calm us down, throw it in the post, and play off that.”

The Sixers were supplemented by a team-high 18 points from Dario Saric, who maximized receiving more touches (see highlights). He also scored 25 in the previous game against the Jazz without Embiid. Brett Brown has been able to turn to Saric in a small-center scenario. 

“Tonight, Dario was playing well, so it’s easy to feed him,” Simmons, who posted 15 points, six rebounds, seven assists and five steals, said (see highlights). “But not having Jo there, a lot of the focus is taken away from that player so they’re working on somebody else. He’s a big part of this team but we’ve got to find ways to win without him.”

The hit the Sixers take on defense when Embiid is not in the game has been well-documented. The Sixers lead the league in rebounds (48.9) and out-rebounded the Celtics, 45-40. Saric pulled down 10 and Richaun Holmes added seven off the bench. Still, they were outscored 44-36 in points in the paint.

“You take away a rim defender like Joel and it’s a lot different,” Simmons said. 

Brown and the players acknowledged the strong effort despite being shorthanded against the 19-4 Celtics. The Sixers led in the third quarter and trailed by only three in the fourth while missing Embiid and backup point guard T.J. McConnell (shoulder). Their next pair of back-to-back games is coming up Dec. 9 and 10 in Cleveland and New Orleans.  

“Hopefully we don’t have to play without him too often,” Redick said. 

Sixers hope they have Embiid tonight vs. reigning MVP

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AP Images

Sixers hope they have Embiid tonight vs. reigning MVP

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid is listed as questionable while the Sixers need all hands on deck to defend Russell Westbrook.

The big man's status tonight is uncertain because of back tightness. Embiid missed Sunday's game against the Pelicans with the issue but played a career-high 39 minutes on Tuesday in the Sixers' overtime win against the Timberwolves. 

Embiid was on the court after shootaround draining threes barefoot. He commonly puts up shots without shoes.

The Sixers will require a total team effort against Westbrook. They will have their top perimeter defender Robert Covington back in the lineup after he missed the last two games with a lower back contusion.

Brett Brown will try different looks on Westbrook, but one thing is already known: There's no clear-cut formula to contain the reigning MVP. 

"Russell Westbrook demands a team to guard him," Brett Brown said Thursday. "He comes at you with such cocky aggression. How about the athlete that we're seeing and the mentality of that athlete? It is bizarre to me. That is a fierce, competitive person that just doesn't seem to get tired ... He's amazing to me. He really is amazing to me." 

Westbrook is averaging 22.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.9 assists per game this season. All those stats don't really project much considering he's capable of going off for 30, 40 points any given night. He scored 30-plus points in three of his last five games. 

Even though the Thunder are below .500 (13-14), the Sixers are not ignoring the offseason additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Veteran scorers cannot be overlooked, regardless of a team's record heading into the game. 

"[Westbrook] is a special player in our league and he's going to be tough to contain one-on-one so it's going to be a group effort tonight," T.J. McConnell said. "Even with the other two, Carmelo and Paul George, it takes a team and following your principles and playing hard. That's all you can really do." 

• The Sixers will wear their red Statement Edition uniforms tonight for the first time. The jerseys were designed to reflect the history of the franchise and the city of Philadelphia. "Sixers" is written in cursive for the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

• The Sixers are unveiling a sculpture of Maurice Cheeks in front of their training complex in Camden. Cheeks is now an assistant coach for the Thunder. The point guard was a member of the 1983 championship team and earned four All-Star selections with the Sixers. Cheeks' sculpture will join those of Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham already on "76ers Legends Walk."

Ben Simmons takes 4 families on holiday shopping spree

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Photo courtesy of Sixers' Twitter account

Ben Simmons takes 4 families on holiday shopping spree

Four families gathered in a roped-off waiting area adorned with Sixers decor inside of a Philadelphia Target store. They were told they were getting a surprise Thursday evening, but they didn't know who or what until a car pulled up outside ... and Ben Simmons walked through the door.

Simmons gave each family a $1,000 shopping spree right then and there. The room erupted in cheer.

"Beautiful," a mother exclaimed at the news. One child put his head in his hands in disbelief when he saw Simmons. Another said, "This is the best day ever."

"It's one of those things I always wanted to do growing up," Simmons, who came up with the idea for the shopping trip on his own, said. "It's the perfect time, season of giving. It just means a lot for me to be able to do this for some families."

The towering 6-foot-10 point guard walked through the store on Monument Road with each family and helped them choose their gifts along the way. 

They headed straight to the toy section, where the children piled in Legos, dolls and anything else that grabbed their attention. Then it was on to electronics. One child filled his cart with video games and a gaming system. Another family selected a television and soundbar. 

Shopping carts accumulated quickly as the kids ran in and out of aisles with bright smiles on their faces.

"Seeing them pick out what they want, not having to worry about it, I think that was the biggest thing," Simmons said. "It was a great time. I had a lot of fun, can't wait to do it next year."

The recipients were selected through Unity in the Community, a nonprofit organization based in South Philadelphia. Each had been through tough times in the past year and this trip helped to put the happy in their holidays.

"They can enjoy it now," Simmons said. "It's great for them to have no worries, especially on Christmas."