Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Joel Embiid, Jerryd Bayless out Tuesday vs. Jazz

Sixers notes, quotes and tidbits: Joel Embiid, Jerryd Bayless out Tuesday vs. Jazz

CAMDEN, N.J. — For those hoping that the restrictions on Joel Embiid may be coming to an end, the Sixers have bad news.

Embiid will not play Tuesday night in Utah for what the team is calling "load management." Embiid, who's averaging 20.5 points and 10.1 rebounds in 27.6 minutes a game this season, will play Thursday night in Sacramento. 

The decision may seem odd seeing as the Sixers haven't played a game since last Friday's win over the Pacers. Unfortunately, head coach Brett Brown didn't really have answers, deferring to the medical staff.

"I really just follow, like I always tell you, the instruction of our medical people," Brown said Monday, "and there is completely a thought-out plan of why this plan has been recommended. I think if it requires more information, they will be the ones to explain why they decided to make this recommendation."

The Sixers are equipped to handle their star big man's absence. Richaun Holmes is now healthy and they have the services of free-agent signee Amir Johnson. Brown also mentioned Jahlil Okafor's name when asked about his plan to replace Embiid's minutes.

The team will also be without guard Jerryd Bayless, who suffered an injury to his left wrist fighting through a screen against Indiana. X-rays were negative, but it's the same wrist Bayless eventually had season-ending surgery on last season.

"It's a tough break," Brown said. "But it's one of those things that [Timothe] Luwawu[-Cabarrot] and [Nik] Stauskas and Justin Anderson — that's why you have a team. These guys are in shape, their attitudes have been great, their fitness level is great. Even though they haven't played, the system caters for all that. "

Bayless started the season as a starter before moving to the bench in favor of Dario Saric the last two games. The move seemed more to get Saric going than it was a slight on Bayless. The veteran guard, who signed a three-year deal last offseason, added another legitimate three-point shooting threat to the lineup, shooting 42 percent through nine games this season.

While it's simply a night off for Embiid, it may be something more serious for Bayless.

"It's all about opportunity for the next guy," point guard T.J. McConnell said. "It's unfortunate what's happened to Jerryd. It's bad luck. We're all praying for him. Like I said, we just have to move on and next guy up."

Bayless underwent MRI and CT scans, but his status beyond the game against the Jazz is unknown.

The Sixers' five-game road trip starts tomorrow in Utah, followed by a game in Sacramento Thursday before stops against the Warriors, Clippers and Lakers.

Guarding Simmons
Sixers point guard Ben Simmons presents a matchup nightmare.

Defend him with a big and he'll blow by him. Try a point guard and he'll post him up. Even wings have struggled to keep up with the strength of the 6-foot-10 point guard.

Simmons has seen all these looks and has found a way to beat them all.

"I just test them," Simmons said. "See how they play me. See what they give me on the court. But every game is a new challenge. I'm learning each one but I think every game I'm getting better."

So far, opposing teams just don't have an answer for Simmons.

"We're just seeing a smorgasbord of everybody's belief on how they should defend Ben Simmons," Brown said. "It has not been a cookie cutter process yet. And because the league so well coaches and because the league is so well scouted, in time you're going to see a constant — mostly — way Ben is defended."

Simmonds leads all rookies in points, assists, rebounds, steals and minutes per game.

Lefty Fultz?
Markelle Fultz was practicing on a side court, mostly just dribbling and doing light drills.

But when he did shoot, he did so ... left-handed?

Before you freak out, it appeared to just be a way for Fultz to get some work in while not using his injured right shoulder. Brown didn't even realize he was doing it.

"No," Brown said. "I haven't even seen it but I can tell you that there's nothing to read into it."

Fultz has missed the last five games with right shoulder soreness and scapular muscle imbalance. He is out indefinitely. 

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.  

Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' odds slipping

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Rookie of the Year down to 2 and Ben Simmons' odds slipping

Donovan Mitchell continues to creep closer to Ben Simmons in the NBA Rookie of the Year race, and the gap in Bovada's odds for the two is as close as it's been all season.

Simmons is now -250 to win the award, meaning a $250 wager is required to win $100. 

Mitchell is at +170, meaning a $100 wager wins you $170.

In the most recent odds update in January, Simmons was at -650; Mitchell was +400.

It's a clear two-man race at this point.
Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.9 blocks this season. No player in recorded history has hit all five criteria in the same season.

Mitchell, however, has been on fire for the NBA's hottest team. The Jazz have won 11 straight games to test the Pelicans for the 8-seed, and over that span, Mitchell has averaged 21.3 points, albeit on 41 percent shooting.

For the season, Mitchell is at 19.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals. He's made 35.4 percent of his threes and 83.6 percent of his free throws.

Both are stars in the making, but it's worth noting that the Jazz are playing better than they have all season and Simmons is still the favorite. Where Utah ends up will be a determining factor in the Rookie of the Year race — if the Jazz can somehow end up the 7-seed in a loaded West, arguments for Mitchell will grow louder.

Both Simmons and Mitchell were two of five guests this week on NBA TV's Open Court: Rookies Edition. Interesting talking points from the special: 

• Mitchell referenced former Sixer Jrue Holiday as an under-the-radar tough player to guard, saying he watches film of Holiday every day.

• Simmons recalled LeBron attacking him frequently in the first quarter of their first meeting, saying he wasn't surprised LeBron wanted to send a message by going right at him.

• The Morris twins were mentioned by Simmons and Jayson Tatum when asked about the most imposing players in the league. Everyone cited DeMarcus Cousins.

• Simmons downplayed the importance of his NBA redshirt season, saying you don't really know what it's like to play back to back and deal with the hectic travel schedule until you're involved in it every day.