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76ers bring Al Horford off bench, ending his 824-game starter streak

Al Horford

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 11: Al Horford #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers arrivals prior to a game against the LA Clippers on February 11, 2020 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

Al Horford started his previous 824 games – the NBA’s sixth-longest active streak of not coming off the bench, behind only:

  • Chris Paul: 1,003
  • LaMarcus Aldridge: 952
  • LeBron James: 915
  • Russell Westbrook: 849
  • Kevin Durant: 849

Horford’s streak ended last night.

The 76ers started shooting guard Furkan Korkmaz in their win over the Clippers. Horford came off the bench for the first time since his rookie year.

Horford, via Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“I just accepted it,” Horford said. “Obviously not the position that I saw myself in this situation, but it was what was best for the team.”

76ers coach Brett Brown, via Hudrick:

“All class,” Brown said about Horford’s reaction. “Right now, this starting group has been struggling, you’ve done nothing wrong. I keep myself up late at night trying to find ways to better coach it and fix it and let it coexist. And to date after 50 whatever games, we’ve struggled a little bit. And that’s one thing. Then the second thing is I feel like I can help you play at the level that you can play at. ... You kept us up late at night with many scouting reports trying to figure you out. And I think it can be a win-win.”
“It was originated out of I thought that they were going to go small,” Brown said. “I think that in general, not to use that as the reason, I spoke to Al about it — we’re trying to find ways to help him and help the team. I felt, disregarding the lineup defensive adjustments that I just spoke of, that the time was appropriate to do it and see if we can get sort of that second unit going with Al. We did it with [Manu] Ginobili [with the Spurs] long ago. Al is obviously a quality player and how I end games will be, to me, the judgment.”

Philadelphia has five clear top players:

  • Joel Embiid
  • Ben Simmons
  • Tobias Harris
  • Josh Richardson
  • Horford

That five-man unit has actually played well this season, outscoring opponents by 8.5 points per 100 possessions. But that group – due to injuries and then Richardson coming off the bench for Shake Milton the previous couple games – hadn’t started together in nearly a month. In the prior month, the five-some outscored opponents by just 3.6 points per 100 possessions.

The 76ers have sounded frustrated amid moderate disapointment.

The Horford-Embiid pairing was a particular challenge. That’s the only of the 10 top-player duos that has been outscored this season.

Philadelphia signed Horford to play power forward with Embiid, yes. But the 76ers also valued him playing center when Embiid sits. So, moving Horford to the bench made some sense.

Horford still played 28 minutes, slightly less than the 31 minutes per game he was getting as a starter. Still, it’s tough to construct a winning roster when a backup big is earning $97 million-$109 million over four years. We’ll also see whether Horford chafes more after coming off the bench in a loss. It’s harder to grumble after a win, especially over a good team like the Clippers.

Beyond Horford-Embiid, the only top-player duo with a net rating below +3.0 is Embiid-Simmons (+1.3). The 76ers have shown no interest in breaking up that star pairing. Maybe that’ll change in the offseason.

But, for now, Horford is the latest player caught in Philadelphia’s long-running search for players who fit around Embiid and Simmons.