76ers

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid back-to-backs and toughest opponents

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid back-to-backs and toughest opponents

The release of the NBA schedule is a highly-anticipated announcement every summer. Now we know what the next 82 matchups will look like for the Sixers, and there is so much to discuss regarding their opponents, road vs. home contests and frequency of games.

One of the most popular questions I received was about individual tickets for home games. Those will go on sale in September. Ticket information for the Jan. 18 game in London is available here.

Thanks to those who submitted questions with #CSNSixersMailbag.

When the schedule was released, I first looked to see the home opener. Then I counted the number of back-to-backs, of which there are 14.

The number of consecutive games is significant for the Sixers because of the restrictions placed on Joel Embiid last season. Embiid did not play both games during his rookie year, his first after recovering from injuries.

I expect the Sixers will have a back-to-back restriction on Embiid again this season. Perhaps not every time — I wouldn’t be surprised it if they tried to get a sense of where he is at with conditioning and workload — but the majority of the season. I put my prediction at Embiid playing in two back-to-back series.

I would think Simmons would face similar restrictions in his rookie season as Embiid did, and I would not be surprised if Simmons does not play in any back-to-backs. The Sixers have yet to see how he performs in an NBA game. They are going to be extremely cautious with the 2016 No. 1 pick when he makes his debut after suffering a Jones fracture last year in training camp.

The Sixers will take a closer look at these situations during training camp once they get to see both of them on the court. When it comes to the health of Embiid and Simmons, it’s all about the career longevity, not a race to play 82 regular season games.

The Sixers' schedule is a tale of two seasons: Western Conference vs. Eastern Conference. They will play 11 games against the West by Nov. 22, including twice against the Rockets, Warriors and Trail Blazers in less than a month. Meanwhile, the second half of the season includes only four Western Conference opponents.

Those aren’t the only early challenges. The Sixers open the season facing some of the best teams in the East, with the Wizards, Celtics and Raptors three games in a row. They encounter another tough Eastern Conference stretch in late November against the Cavaliers, Wizards and Celtics (on a back-to-back).

So what does all this mean for their record? The Sixers are positioned to improve, and despite these challenges I still expect them to make the playoffs. There will be a lot of bumps in the road early on, though, with a new team — a young team at that — learning to play together. So if they start out struggling against this stacked lineup of opponents, that won’t be cause for panic. The Sixers have a lot of areas in which they will need to grow and these matchups will be a good test for them. It is more beneficial to face these teams early on than coast through an easy schedule for the first few months, get comfortable playing against lesser competitions and then run into these contenders.

The second half of the season favors the Sixers if they are making a run at a playoff berth. Among their opponents, they play the Nets three times in a month and the Hawks twice in two weeks to close out the regular season.

The games in this question are Nov. 11 at Warriors, Nov. 13 at Clippers, Nov. 15 at Lakers and Nov. 18 vs. Warriors at home compared to Nov. 27 vs. Cavaliers at home, Nov. 29 vs. Wizards at home and Nov. 30 at Celtics.

I am going with the Western Conference matchups.

The three games in this question are part of a five-game road trip that runs Nov. 7 through Nov. 15 with the first two games in Salt Lake City and Sacramento. The Sixers will be facing the defending champions at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors went 36-5 last regular season.

From there they will go to the Staples Center. That game against the Lakers will be just as much about basketball as it will be about the Lonzo and LaVar Ball storylines. Based on the Summer League crowd in Las Vegas, I’m sure Lakers fans will be ready for this one. It will be a test of focus for the Sixers.

Then it’s welcome back home to face the Warriors again. I don’t know many teams that want to play the Warriors twice in eight days. 

Breaking down Joel Embiid's rough shooting night

Breaking down Joel Embiid's rough shooting night

Joel Embiid has joked in the past about his desire to be a guard in the NBA. All kidding and three-point shooting aside, the big man wants to play at the basket.

“We’ve got to do a better job of finding me in the post,” he said following the Sixers' loss to the Celtics on Friday. 

Embiid was candid about where he needs the ball following his 11-point performance. He didn’t score until the third quarter and shot 4 for 16 from the field and 0 for 6 from three in 28 minutes. 

“I felt like I needed to go to the perimeter to make something happen because I wasn’t getting the ball in the post,” Embiid said. “I think we’ve got to look at the tapes and find ways to get me the ball in the post. But I felt like because I wasn’t doing that, I had to go outside and make something happen to help us win.”

Embiid started off the game taking shots away from the basket. He went 0 for 2 from three in the first quarter and also missed a 20-foot jumper. His two points came at the line.

Embiid went scoreless in the second quarter and didn’t attempt any shots in the paint, either. He failed to connect on another three as well as an 11-foot jump shot and a 13-foot floater. 

He began the second half going 0 for 2 from long-range in the first four minutes. Finally, with 4:35 remaining in the quarter, he recorded his first field goal off a layup from Dario Saric. He scored off a dunk from Markelle Fultz late in the third and notched another point off a free throw. 

Embiid became more aggressive at the basket in the fourth quarter. He checked in with 5:37 remaining and the Sixers trailing by four. He knocked down a 13-foot pull-up and then missed his next four attempts: an eight-foot jumper, a layup, a trey, and a tip layup. Embiid made a layup with 16 seconds to play. 

The Sixers system has changed from last season when Embiid was the offensive go-to (20.2 points per game). As a rookie, he made 63.6 percent of his field goals within three feet of the basket, according to Basketball-Reference.com.

The Sixers have added more scoring options, including Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, who drive the basket and are not perimeter-focused. Of the two, only Fultz made a shot outside the paint on Friday. The team as a whole scored 40 of their 92 points in the paint, compared to 28 by the Celtics. Below is a combined shot chart for Simmons and Fultz. 

Embiid's teammates will look to feed Embiid the ball at the basket. Just two games into the season, this newly-constructed squad still is learning how to play with one another. Embiid was limited in full-court practices for the majority of training camp and only played in two preseason contests.

The Sixers also are adapting to the offense when Embiid is both on and off the court as his minutes and availability fluctuate. He is not playing Saturday against the Raptors in the second night of a back-to-back. 

“If he’s in the game and he’s in the post, get him the ball,” Fultz said.

Embiid echoed, “He’s right. That’s the right answer.”

Sixers-Raptors thoughts: Embiid to sit, Okafor to take his place

sixers-game-notes-master.jpg

Sixers-Raptors thoughts: Embiid to sit, Okafor to take his place

Sixers (0-2) at Raptors (1-0)
7:30 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app. Pregame Live at 7.

The Sixers enter their first back-to-back set of the season when they tip off against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre.

Hope you didn’t think the Sixers would flip the switch overnight. Oh yeah, it’s a process.

The Sixers found that out again when they stalled during the second half of Friday night’s 102-92 loss to the Boston Celtics in their home opener.

“We didn’t hold everything together like we should have,” Jerryd Bayless said.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

• Joel Embiid won’t suit up against the Raptors because the center still isn’t cleared for back-to-backs yet. His stamina is not where it needs to be at the moment and it showed vs. the Celtics.

Embiid looked lethargic as he struggled through a 4-for-16 performance for just 11 points. That included the big man going 0 for 6 from three-point range.

After the game, the big man expressed that he wants more touches in the paint. That will certainly happen, but it will have to wait until the next game.

• So who will take Embiid’s playing time in Toronto? If only the Sixers had another center on their roster also taken No. 3 overall in a recent NBA draft.

Wait, they do? Hello, Jahlil Okafor.

Since slimming down in the offseason and performing well during the preseason, Okafor has been glued to the bench during the Sixers’ first two games of 2017-18.

That is likely to change against the Raptors. With both Embiid and Richaun Holmes out, Okafor could share the center duties with veteran Amir Johnson.

That wouldn’t be a bad idea based on the numbers. In five career games against the Raptors, Okafor has averaged 20.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in 31.3 minutes.

• For years, the Raptors have been fueled by their All-Star backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. That won’t change this season, but the team is intent on spreading the ball around more.

Toronto had six players score in double figures during its season opener. That included a team-high 23 points from center Jonas Valanciunas and 22 off the bench from veteran C.J. Miles.

Speaking of Miles, the Sixers will have to keep a close eye on the Raps’ new-look bench that accounted for 48 points in the team’s season-opening win over the Chicago Bulls.

• Ben Simmons has been as advertised. He’s big, strong, athletic and plays with poise.

The point guard put up 11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in Friday’s loss to the Celtics. That made him the first rookie in Sixers history to start his career with back-to-back double-doubles and just the 11th in NBA history.

Simmons also became just the fifth player ever to have at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in their first two games, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The other four: Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Connie Hawkins and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Yeah, he’s off to a pretty good start.

• The Sixers haven’t exactly had much success against the Raptors in recent years. They’ve lost 15 of their last 16 to their division foe, including nine straight at Air Canada Centre. Their last victory north of the border came on Nov. 10, 2012.

• Embiid (rest) and Holmes (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Fred VanVleet (head) is a game-time decision for the Raptors. Malcolm Miller (ankle) is out.