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. 

Joel Embiid: 'If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone'

Joel Embiid: 'If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone'

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS — Joel Embiid is trying to kick back tightness he has been dealing with since Thursday.

Embiid was a late scratch for the Sixers in Sunday's 131-124 loss to the Pelicans (see observations). He said he began to experience the tightness while playing Thursday against the Lakers. Embiid received treatment during the game but felt "pretty sore" after.

The big man already was slated to miss one of the two back-to-backs in Cleveland and New Orleans because of his medical restriction. He sat Saturday, but when he warmed up pregame Sunday, he still didn’t feel healthy enough to go.

“I tried to warm up earlier but I couldn't,” Embiid said. “If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone. But we've got 82 games and they don't want me to push if I'm not a hundred percent, so that's what I did.”

The Sixers need Embiid (23.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.0 blocks) back on the court. They have dropped to 13-13 on a four-game losing streak, including these last two without him. Embiid is an integral part of the Sixers’ defense, especially against a Pelicans team with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis in the frontcourt. The two bigs combined for 52 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks. 

Embiid said he expects to play in the Sixers' next game, Tuesday in Minnesota. Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns is posting 19.8 points, 11.6 boards and 1.3 blocks per game this season. Embiid still has to work out Monday before that his availability. In the meantime, he is receiving massage treatment.

“I just got to keep resting for a couple days and see how it feels day-by-day,” Embiid said. “But it's been getting better. It's a lot, much better.”

Embiid is the latest Sixers to be added to the list of injuries. Robert Covington suffered a lower back contusion Saturday and is doubtful for Tuesday (see story). T.J. McConnell continues to be hampered by a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. He has missed five of his last six games. Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) and Justin Anderson (left leg) are weeks out from another reevaluation.

Sixers-Pelicans observations: Strong effort shorthanded but skid continues

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USA Today Images

Sixers-Pelicans observations: Strong effort shorthanded but skid continues

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS — A must-see battle of bigs turned into a must-read injury list. Joel Embiid was an unexpected late scratch because of back tightness in Sunday’s touted matchup against the Pelicans.

And with that development, the tone of the game changed completely. Instead of Embiid taking on the towering duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, the already-shorthanded Sixers scrambled to piece together a competitive squad.

Playing without Embiid, Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell, the Sixers dropped their fourth straight game, 131-124, Sunday night to the Pelicans.

• Davis and Cousins didn’t do as much damage as what seemed likely without Embiid. Davis posted 29 points and eight rebounds and Cousins tallied 23 points and nine boards, but those totals weren't as monumental given the performances both have had against the Sixers in the past. It was actually former Sixer Jrue Holiday turned out to be the game’s highest scorer (34 points).

• Ben Simmons recorded his 15th double-double and ninth 20-point game (27 points, 10 assists, five rebounds). Rajon Rondo topped the assist duel with 18 dimes along with 13 points.

• The energy in the arena was lackluster in the first half. There was barely a reaction when Tony Allen walked off the court with a knee injury.

• The Sixers trailed 66-55 at the half and got back into the game by outscoring the Pelicans, 40-21, in the third. JJ Redick posted 11 points (a team-high 28 points overall), backed up by bigs Johnson and Booker with eight apiece. 

• But how does a 105-all tie turn into a nine-point deficit just-like-that? The Sixers allowed four straight threes, a pair by Holiday and one each from Davis and Cunningham, over a span of just 1:41 in the fourth. The Pelicans remained in control after that.

• Covington was out, as expected, after falling out of bounds and suffering a lower back contusion Saturday in Cleveland. X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is doubtful for the Sixers’ next game against the Timberwolves.

• Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot started in place of Covington. Luwawu-Cabarrot had a rough shooting night, going 2 for 10 from the field and missing all four of his three-point attempts.

• Brett Brown inserted Luwawu-Cabarrot in the starting lineup instead of going with three guards because the backcourt reserves were already depleted without McConnell, who missed his fifth games out of the last six because of a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. Brown needed Jerryd Bayless to be available off the bench, while the Sixers clearly need McConnell’s hustle back on the floor.

• This injury-stricken game was an opportunity for role players to step up. Trevor Booker proved to be reliable again off the bench in his second game (16 points, nine rebounds). Richaun Holmes neared a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds.

• After going back and forth … and back and forth from the Sixers to the Sevens, Furkan Korkmaz put his time in the G League to use. He clocked 20 minutes for five points and three rebounds, including this jam.

• The Sixers shot a solid 27 for 30 from the free throw line but struggled 9 for 29 from three (31 percent). The Pelicans, as noted above, excelled from long range. They scored 45 points off 15 for 24 shooting (62.5 percent).

• Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry has heard the comparisons between Simmons and Magic Johnson, and he doesn’t think they’re off base.

“I think Ben is truly going to be one of the great young players in this league,” Gentry said. “When you say he plays like Magic, everybody goes like, 'Ahh,' but he’s out of that mold right there where he does a lot of things.”

• Gentry also got to know Embiid during their trip to Africa in August for Basketball without Borders. He described Embiid as “a character.”

“Just to see him on the court and see him with kids and see some of the things that he can do, it’s very impressive,” Gentry said.

• Familiar faces: Holiday played his first four seasons on the Sixers. Pennsylvania native and St. Joe’s alum Jameer Nelson signed with the Pelicans for his 14th NBA season. Nelson and his teammates were watching the Eagles game in the locker room earlier.

• Sixers fans were spread out around the arena in team jerseys and T-shirts. One fan hopped on a plane from Philadelphia by himself to catch the game. Another traveled from Pensacola, Florida, noting he’s been a dedicated fan “since the Tony Wroten days.”