Sixers still unsure whether Fultz will return this season

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Sixers still unsure whether Fultz will return this season

Will Markelle Fultz play this season or won’t he? 

With 14 games left before the playoffs, that is the constant question for the Sixers. 

“I truly don’t know,” Brett Brown said Friday. 

The Sixers have not put a timeframe on making a decision about Fultz’s availability for the remainder of his rookie year. He has not played since Oct. 23 because of a right shoulder injury, which affected his shot early in the season. 

“We speak internally but we really haven’t set a hard date, X amount of games, X date,” Brown said. “We’re letting this thing sort of play out. I do understand, we understand, that at some point very soon some final decisions will have to be made.”

Videos of Fultz shooting after practices, shootarounds and during pregame drills have provided insight into his progress. Each release is watched on replay as Sixers fans yearn to see the complete turnaround of his offense. 

“The marketplace and you (the media) see what we see too: We see him getting better,” Brown said. “I also know that this decision that we’re speaking of will be generated very much in a collaborative spirit led by him. We have medical people, we have coaches, we have Markelle Fultz, the player. It’s all kind of fluid.”

The Sixers (38-30) are entering a key stage in their schedule in which every game is counting toward their playoff positioning. Incorporating a new player into the rotations, which Brown has been tightening up, could present challenges with such little time left in the regular season. Fultz also would need to adjust to the pace of the NBA game and get immersed in a system where he could take on some ball-handling responsibilities. 

Brown said the potential reward would outweigh the risk if Fultz were cleared to play. 

“What he does in open court, what he does with a live ball, I think that he’s very different than any player that we have,” Brown said. "What I see in practice at times, you understand completely why he was the first person chosen in the NBA draft.”

For a situation with so many complexities over the course of the season, Brown's reasoning for wanting to play Fultz is very simple.

"Because he can make us better," Brown said. 

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.”