Markelle Fultz

Joel Embiid upgraded to probable for Game 3

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Joel Embiid upgraded to probable for Game 3

Updated: 4:54 p.m.

MIAMI — Joel Embiid has been upgraded to probable for the Sixers' Game 3 tonight against the Heat.

Embiid was listed as doubtful after Thursday's shootaround. An official decision does not have to be made until closer to the 7 p.m. start time. Embiid has been sidelined with a left eye orbital fracture suffered March 28.

“He went through stuff yesterday that was decent,” Brett Brown said Thursday before shootaround. “He had a little bit of contact, trying to get used to the mask, felt some bodies. But at this stage this morning, we are listing him as doubtful.” 

Embiid once again was taking threes before the start of shootaround. He posted he was "(expletive) sick and tired of being babied" on Instagram following the Sixers' Game 2 loss, their first since he was injured. The series is tied 1-1. 

If Embiid does not play, the Sixers could start either Amir Johnson (Game 1 starter) or Ersan Ilyasova (Game 2 starter). Heat center Hassan Whiteside was unfazed by the uncertainty of the matchup. 

“I’m not even thinking about what Philly’s doing,” Whiteside said. “I’m just thinking about what the Heat’s doing.” 

One decision the Sixers have made is to play Markelle Fultz more in Game 3. He had been receiving Ben Simmons’ backup minutes but was on the court for less than five minutes in Monday’s loss. Brown cited the physicality of the game as the reason he went with T.J. McConnell instead. 

“I will go back to Markelle,” Brown said. “He deserves the opportunity to play basketball in that role again. … My belief is that he will learn from the last situation.” 

Brown will watch to see how Fultz is getting into the paint, handling pressure and is getting the Sixers into their offense. Fultz is looking to be a playmaker and use his length as an advantage on defense. 

“I just want to go out there and play as hard as I can,” Fultz said.

Sixers ready to embrace Heat's increased physicality on defense

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Sixers ready to embrace Heat's increased physicality on defense

The Heat’s physicality in Game 2 didn’t bother every Sixers player.

“I think this is the first time where it’s been let go a little bit more, which has been good. I enjoy it,” said Ben Simmons, who recorded 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in the Sixers’ 113-103 loss. “I love competing against guys like that, who you know want to hit each other and knock each other down, which is good.”

When you’re a 6-10, 230-pound bruising version of a point guard, that type of play would definitely appear to fit your style. 

Chalk Simmons up as the exception and not the rule for the Sixers, although the entire team knew the Heat were going to punch back after a lopsided Game 1.

“Obviously, they were very physical,” Markelle Fultz said after Tuesday’s practice. “I don’t think that was like something we were shocked by. We knew they were going to come out more physical. That was one of the emphasis they had coming in.”

“Honestly, it was what we expected them to do,” JJ Redick said. “We didn’t expect things to be as easy as that second half was in Game 1. They’re a championship organization with a lot of pride. That was expected. So we have to kind of move on and go under the assumption that that’s how it’s going to be the rest of the series.”

If that’s the case, this Sixers team with limited playoff experience outside of a few veterans better get adjusted in a hurry.

The Sixers were clearly affected by Miami’s increased defensive intensity on Monday night. They shot just 41.7 percent from the field (19.4 percent from three-point range) and committed 15 turnovers. More importantly, they allowed the Heat to knock their entire offense out of rhythm.

“I think, too, it wasn’t just about physicality,” Redick said. “I think a byproduct of that, and probably part of their strategy, was if you’re physical you’re going to foul. The game becomes choppy and the game is played at their pace. We have to figure out a way to play the game at our pace.”

The Sixers know getting the game on their terms means being stronger with the ball, setting better screens and cutting harder to the basket. However, perhaps the best way to counter the Heat’s extra physicality is by simply embracing the defensive pressure.

“Honestly, I think it can help us a lot because with team pressure we can just be able to attack,” Fultz said. “If we get to the rim, we have great athletes and we have great shooters. So get to the rim.”

Take a day to enjoy 52-30 before worrying about the playoffs

Take a day to enjoy 52-30 before worrying about the playoffs

After 15 games in a row, I probably should've learned my lesson. But I really though the streak was ending last night: The Sixers looked gassed against the Hawks in Atlanta on Tuesday, Ben Simmons had the flu, Dario Saric probably hadn't eaten solid food in 24 hours, both Joel Embiid and J.J. Redick were out, and the Sixers were gonna have to beat a Bucks team at risk of losing their first-round draft pick with a loss -- all on the second night of a back-to-back, after playing (and winning) 15 games in four weeks. Like... it should've at least been a challenge, right? 

Not so much. The game lasted maybe ten minutes before being Sharpie-able -- by the time the Sixers went up 40-12 with two minutes to go in the first, this thing was already about as over as third-wave ska. Maybe the Bucks didn't care about keeping their first-rounder as much as they wanted to duck Cleveland and Philly in the first round, or maybe they just got blitzed early and didn't have the resolve to fight back in Game 82. Either way, no LeBron on the Bucks sideline meant no real risk of a Milwaukee comeback, and Philly ended up winning this one 130-95. 

That's 52-30 for your Philadelphia 76ers, then, and an NBA record 16-game winning streak to close out the regular season. I remember having so many conversations in January and February -- including a bunch of one-sided ones on this blog -- about how the Sixers just needed to get through February, and the rest of their schedule would be cream cheese. Still, none of us could've anticipated it'd be this level of cream cheese -- that heavenly walnut raisin -- where the Sixers would go an entire month without a single dropped game, a single emotional let-up, a single schedule loss, a single s**t-happens no-show. Hell, only five of the wins were by single digits. Basketball isn't supposed to be this easy, for anyone, ever. 

Oh yeah, and for the ninth time in the last 18 games, our point guard had a triple-double. That's pretty remarkable in itself, but what made it particularly special last night was that it wasn't from Ben Simmons, who actually struggled to one of his worst stat lines of the season -- just four points on 1-6 shooting, with six boards, seven dimes and four turnovers. Rather, it was Markelle Fultz who provided the spectacular for the Sixers, putting up a resounding 13-10-10 in 25 minutes off the bench for Philly, becoming the youngest player ever to post a triple-double (and getting mobbed by his teammates for the achievement). You couldn't have asked for a more feel-good capper to the Sixers' season than our No. 1 overall pick, who so many had written off as a bust before he'd even played five games as a pro, casually making NBA history in his final game of the regular season. 

What more can you say about this Philadelphia 76ers season, really? After four years of historic losing, how do you begin come to grips with following a team whose 52-30 record probably undersells how good they've been? What kind of sense is there to be made of a team that goes from "they *could* make the playoffs" to "they *could* win the NBA championship" in the space of three months? How do you try to explain to your kids that the 19-year-old who just posted a triple-double in a season-closing must-win game isn't even close to the best rookie point guard on your team? In what world is this Sixers team allowed to be as good as they've been the last eight games without their most important player? You have to laugh, it's all so cosmically silly. 

So, the three seed. The Sixers got that. Thanks to the putrid final-day showings from the Bucks and the eighth-seeded Wizards, they'll host the sixth-seeded Miami Heat in the first round, with the winner of Celtics-Bucks awaiting in the conference semis should the Sixers advance. And at the risk of getting ahead of myself, I'll ask The700Level readers to do me the personal favor of not making the mistake of underestimating the Heat, who are extremely tough and who've basically played the Sixers even all season. The Sixers may be favorites in this series, but they are not even close to a sure thing. 

But who cares about the postseason, really? I don't want to talk about that yet. This regular season was so much fun, and such a triumph -- at least by Joel-Embiid-didn't-play-65-games standards -- that the playoffs almost seem like an afterthought to me right now. These 82 games provided all the ammo Sixers fans will ever night to forever combat the Enemies of the Process, and getting to watch Joel and Ben and Dario and Markelle has been validation for every decision the Sixers ever made that brought us here. (Except for the Nerlens Noel trade, of course, which I'll still be megaphoning about in protest as we parade down Broad Street for the third straight June.) It's been six months of Hoagiefest at the Wells Fargo Center, and I've loved it more than I knew was possible. 

Before we get into the playoff matchups and all that, I hope you'll all take a day to reflect on just how special this has all been. We have an irritating tendency in American pro sports to let playoff success or lack thereof color everything that came before it, as if we don't spend the great majority of our basketball-fan lives watching the regular season. There's obviously big things still to come for these Sixers, both in the short term and long term, but please don't let anticipation of those overshadow how big these last 82 games have been, too. Fanbases go entire generations without a season like this. The Sixers went 17 years without a season like this. It's a short life. Trust the Process.