76ers

With 15 games left, Sixers know 'it’s getting to be go time'

With 15 games left, Sixers know 'it’s getting to be go time'

This may be hard to believe, but the Sixers have just 15 regular season games left.

After Sunday’s 106-89 win over the Pacers (see observations), the Sixers are now in the driver’s seat for the Eastern Conference’s third seed.

They went just 4-4 while missing Joel Embiid for eight games since the All-Star break. They had two poor efforts in Chicago and Houston.

But with the chance to win the season series against Indiana, they knew that was a game they needed.

“This was a must-win for us,” Tobias Harris said. “I mean, regardless of the standings and all that other good stuff, it was a must-win because of the last two games that we’ve had. We had two games that we kind of didn’t bring the right energy to the games, or close out the games, especially in Chicago. So coming back on our home floor and having our fans cheer us on and get the win was big for us.”

The biggest difference between those games against the Bulls and Rockets and the win over the Pacers was clearly the presence of Embiid.

He was rusty at the start, but the All-Star center scored 18 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter (see story). He managed to get the Pacers’ two best big men in foul trouble and hit 11 of 15 from the line.

What didn’t show up in the box score was the impact he made on defense. He altered shots and his presence seemed to have a positive effect on the team’s help defense and overall communication.

He was questionable coming in, but knew what was at stake Sunday.

“Seeing the Houston game, the past couple games, you know we’re fighting for the third seed over here,” Embiid said. “We’re fighting for home-court advantage. I just felt like this game was also really important and if it was just for me to come back to this game and miss a couple, I would’ve been fine with it, but I just felt like I had to play this game just to make sure that we were in good position.”

Embiid’s performance was a sight for sore eyes for Brett Brown. The Sixers’ head coach has been the source of criticism from the fan base for the Sixers’ poor performance late in games and against elite teams.

With the pair of moves Elton Brand made to acquire Harris and Jimmy Butler, it’s very clear the Sixers are trying to win now. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Brown, who embraces the expectations and has his players ready.

“I can feel that they sense that it’s getting to be go time,” Brown said. “For the past [few] games, every time we come in that locker room, I have a number on the board and tonight on the video screen, they looked up and it said 16. The next game, it’s going to say 15, and it’s going to walk down. We’re on the clock.

“I think that the sense of urgency and awareness of what we are getting close to, having to perform at the level that we have to perform at is real for these players. I can feel that there’s an excitement having Joel back and Boban [Marjanovic] is not that far away, and it’s getting close to [the playoffs] and I can feel it more than I can see it. I thought our guys responded well tonight as a starting point.”

If Sunday was the "starting point," it is encouraging. Hopefully they won't see the finish line until mid-June.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers vs. Cavs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Cavs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Before they have a chance to get one back on the defending champion Raptors Sunday night, the Sixers have a game to play Saturday at Wells Fargo Center.

Here are the essentials for the matchup between the 15-7 Sixers and 5-16 Cavs.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

It’s not rest this time

Joel Embiid has yet to have a “rest” game since saying load management is “BS.”

He’s out Saturday with a left hip contusion. A team source told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Embiid reported discomfort after the Sixers’ 119-113 loss Thursday to the Wizards and is being treated for the injury.

Embiid had played in 11 straight games since sitting the last game of a back-to-back on Nov. 13 in Orlando. 

After tonight, he’ll have played in 18 of the Sixers’ first 23 games, and 30.4 minutes per night. He played every one of the team’s first 23 games last year, averaging 34.6 minutes. 

Missing the ‘dot connector’ 

Before the season, Brett Brown called Josh Richardson the “mortar” for the Sixers. On Nov. 20, he labeled him a “dot connector.” 

The Sixers have managed a 5-1 mark in games Richardson has missed — he’s out again Saturday with right hamstring tightness — but they’ve been much worse with him off the floor. The team has a plus-10.6 net rating with Richardson on the court, minus-0.6 with him off it.

Much of that can be attributed to him being paired with Embiid, who has similar on-off numbers and tends to boost the net ratings of whomever he’s playing with, but that disparity does suggest Richardson’s value. 

At a minimum, splitting up the Richardson-Embiid pairing has hurt the Sixers. 

Drama with the Cavs 

Three anonymous players were quoted in a story in The Athletic by Shams Charania and Joe Vardon about new Cavs head coach John Beilein. The players voiced their frustration with, among other things, the former Michigan coach’s emphasis on fundamentals and extended film sessions. And, according to the report, “all the team’s screens, cuts, and pivots are named after wild animals. A curl is a 'polar bear' in John Beilein's system.” That reportedly hasn’t resonated with a few of the Cavs’ veteran players.

Several players then responded to the report and spoke out in support of Beilein, including Tristan Thompson. 

“Y’all better find them names ‘cause I’ll pull up on ‘em right now,” Thompson told reporters. “You can’t do that s---. At the end of the day if you’re going to build a culture and a family, you can’t have that Chatty Patty s--- going on. That s--- is whack to me.”

That wasn’t the only notable news involving the Cavs on Friday. The team is prepared to listen to offers for Kevin Love, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported. The five-time All-Star missed Cleveland's 93-87 loss Friday to the Magic because of an illness. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

The Sixers will be down two starters Saturday night when they return to Wells Fargo Center to play the Cavs.

Josh Richardson will miss his fifth consecutive game with right hamstring tightness, while Joel Embiid is out with a left hip contusion.

A team source told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Embiid reported discomfort after the Sixers' 119-113 loss to the Wizards on Thursday night and is being treated for the injury.

Embiid had 26 points, 21 rebounds and eight turnovers Thursday.

Richardson and the Sixers have been cautious with his hamstring. He told reporters in Washington, D.C., that this is the first hamstring injury he's dealt with and admitted that it's been a frustrating process.

“A hamstring is one of those things where you can think that you’re fine and then you take a wrong step and it’s a week or two-week setback," he said. "I don’t really want to get into that whole cycle. ... It’s just one of those things where I just don’t really know where I’m at most of the time. It always feels like I’m tiptoeing, trying not to do too much.”

The Sixers' preferred starting five of Embiid, Richardson, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Al Horford have played just 102 minutes together this season, posting a plus-21.3 net rating. 

Furkan Korkmaz has started the past four games in place of Richardson. Without Embiid, the Sixers will need to plug in another spot starter and perhaps search for further big man depth. Kyle O'Quinn hasn't played since Nov. 23, but he might be called upon vs. Cleveland.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers