Joel Embiid's humor, true self coming through recently a good sign for Sixers

Joel Embiid's humor, true self coming through recently a good sign for Sixers

Over the last few days, we’ve seen Joel Embiid be his unabashed and charismatic self. Whether it was his blunt assessment of the Disney World bubble, the hazmat suit he showed up to the airport in or his social media antics, this has been quintessential Embiid.

But that’s not the person we’ve seen all season. In an effort to be more mature, Embiid has cut down the trash talk and kept his social media activity at a minimum. It could be partly to blame to for an uneven season from the All-Star center.

The catalyst for Embiid’s new way of thinking seemed to be his fight with Karl-Anthony Towns back in October. You’ll recall Embiid was ejected and left the court shadowboxing to the delight of the crowd. He then got into a profane social media battle with Towns. It resulted in a two-game suspension as the Sixers were headed out for a tough West Coast swing.

After that, Embiid vowed to never get suspended again. That also led to a funky 17-game stretch where Embiid averaged 21.7 points and was held scoreless in a game for the first time in his NBA career. Embiid seemed off.

He confirmed that notion on Dec. 10 after a home win against the Nuggets. Embiid admitted that he wasn’t having fun and was trying to be more mature. He also had his effort level called out by Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.

Embiid agreed with them and then went out and had a dominant 38-point performance in a rare road win for the Sixers in Boston. Outside of a stellar Christmas Day performance and a big night in an OT loss in Miami, Embiid was still in a bit of a funk. He then tore a ligament in his left ring finger which caused him to miss nine games.

As Embiid recovered from that injury, he played with a splint on his hand that clearly affected him. Then there was the odd moment where he shushed the Wells Fargo Center crowd during a sleepy Sunday night win over the Bulls. After that game, Embiid claimed he was just being a “good a—hole.”

After a strong All-Star Game performance and a couple dominant efforts over the Nets and Hawks, Embiid seemed to be finding his groove and managing his duality of being mature and having fun. Injury struck again in Cleveland as Embiid hurt his shoulder and missed five games before returning in the last game before play was suspended.

That brings us to this week. In his first meeting with local reporters since the hiatus, Embiid was blunt and honest when talking about the NBA’s bubble at Disney World.

I hated the idea,” Embiid said Tuesday. “I feel like with everything that has been going on, it’s unfortunate what’s been going on in the world. Obviously people look at it in a different way. There might be some other reasons behind everything going on. To me, that part never mattered. To me, all I want is to stay healthy and stay safe, keep the people around me safe. I want to make sure I’m able to live for a long time and not have any sort of consequences in the future from this if I were to be in a situation where I was getting the virus. 

“Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of the idea. But then again, I’m going to do my job. I’m not going to let the city down. I’m going to represent my city — that’s what I’ve always done — my family, my teammates. The mindset doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter the fact that I don’t like that idea and I still don’t believe in it. I don’t think it’s going to be safe enough.

In a way to perhaps use laughter as a coping mechanism, Embiid showed up for the team’s flight to Florida in a hazmat suit, gloves and mask.

He posted pictures of himself in the ensemble on Instagram with the caption, “Get rich or die trying!!!” paying homage to the 50 Cent album.

Embiid then had a little fun with the food situation while in quarantine, joking that he’s “definitely losing 50 pounds” while in the bubble.

But that is Embiid. That is the player Sixers fans have grown to love and see develop into one of the most dominant two-way forces in the NBA. While we shouldn’t condone getting into fights and flipping the bird to opponents, some of these things are fundamental Embiid.

That's not to say this is the only factor. Embiid's multiple injuries have set him back up. His fit next to Al Horford and the general construction of the roster have hindered him at times. And despite a drop in traditional stats, Embiid did play at a high level for most of the season.

But the guy who tells opponents they can’t bleeping guard him, talks about being the best player in the world to the press and then talks more smack on Instagram should be the one they want.

Because that’s the real Joel Embiid and the one that gives them the best chance of prolonging their stay at Disney World.

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How to watch Sixers at Rockets: Storylines, live stream, game time and more

How to watch Sixers at Rockets: Storylines, live stream, game time and more

For the first time since the 2011-12 lockout year, the Sixers will play fewer than 82 games in a “regular” season. Their 73rd and final game before the postseason is Friday night against the Rockets.

Joel Embiid (left ankle soreness) and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) are questionable, and Russell Westbrook is out for Houston with a right quad strain. 

Here are the essentials:

When: 9 p.m. with Sixers Pregame Live at 8
Where: AdventHealth Arena
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

All about Monday 

Health and “spirit” are the two things Brett Brown has consistently said he hoped the Sixers would have intact for the postseason. The team’s health is significantly compromised with Ben Simmons out after undergoing surgery on his left knee, which is probably more important than an intangible quality like spirit. That said, the Sixers’ morale doesn’t seem too bad given the circumstances. There’s been a little time for everyone to wrap their head around Simmons’ injury and what it means, and the starting lineup enjoyed cheering on the reserves in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s loss to the Raptors.

The Sixers’ first-round series vs. the Celtics begins Monday night (see series schedule). It sounds simple enough … but just get to tip-off of Game 1 with the healthiest version of the current team. 

Is hot outside shooting sustainable? 

Before the NBA’s hiatus, the Sixers were shooting 36.2 percent from three-point range. They’re at 40.6 percent in Disney World, and Joel Embiid and Shake Milton are the only rotation players below their season averages from long range. 

That large of an increase is likely attributable to a small sample size, at least in part, but it does seem that players like Al Horford, Furkan Korkmaz and Alec Burks are comfortable and shooting with confidence. Perhaps it will carry over to the playoffs. 

Small-ball prep 

The Rockets will finish either No. 4 or No. 5 in the Western Conference, a distinction that means very little when there are no true home games. It would therefore be unsurprising if minutes were limited for Houston’s key players. 

One thing that will be interesting to watch regardless is how the Sixers will handle a team without a conventional center. Houston is an extreme practitioner of small ball, but the Sixers’ top lineups will generally be larger than the Celtics’. Horford’s perimeter defense will be tested by Boston.

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NBA Rumors: Buddy Hield's comments should have Sixers fans intrigued

NBA Rumors: Buddy Hield's comments should have Sixers fans intrigued

The Sixers haven't even started the playoffs, but a potential offseason storyline is already bubbling up.

Kings guard Buddy Hield has been long tied to the Sixers as a potential trade target, from insider chatter to fan speculation, to his accidental (?) fueling of those rumors when he liked an Instagram post earlier this year with a hypothetical trade moving him to Philly.

So when the Kings' season ended Thursday, and Hield was asked if he's comfortable with his role off the bench in Sacramento heading into next season, his answer raised some eyebrows.

Including, I'd imagine, some in Philadelphia.

Here's what Hield had to say:

[Hield] provided a series of short answers during a Zoom session with reporters and offered a cryptic response when asked if he could be content with his role going into next season.

"Y'all know me," Hield said. "Y'all know how I talk. Y'all know how I feel. Y'all can read me well, so I'll let y'all answer that yourselves."

Pretty spicy. That doesn't sound like someone who wants to stay where he is!

Hield signed a four-year extension with Sacramento last October, but the Kings regressed in their first year under head coach Luke Walton, and The Athletic reported in February that Hield, unhappy with his role, might be eyeing a move elsewhere.

It doesn't sound like Hield's concerns about his role have changed much since then. If he's unhappy, he could theoretically ask for a trade - or Sacramento could pre-emptively try to get something for the still-young shooter.

I examined the potential fit back in April, including the hypothetical Hield-for-Horford deal from that fateful Instagram post:

In terms of contract length and salary hit, the Hield and Horford deals are strikingly similar, and Hield's game would be an instant improvement for the Sixers' offensive spacing: he's a two-guard who shoots a career 41.1 percent from deep, and can create his own shot. Plus, he's substantially younger than Horford.

Will the move happen? If the Kings deem their relationship with Hield unfixable, it's possible. Horford hasn't fit well in Philly, but he's still a savvy veteran with a good track record. And Hield would certainly check the boxes for the Sixers' front office.

Hield shot 39% from deep this year on 9.5 (!) three-point attempts per game, is a career 41% three-point shooter over 315 games, and would be a perfect match for the Sixers. 

We'll see.

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