76ers

With James Ennis' return, Brett Brown makes successful shuffle with Sixers' rotation, while Boban Marjanovic proves he can shoot

With James Ennis' return, Brett Brown makes successful shuffle with Sixers' rotation, while Boban Marjanovic proves he can shoot

The question of whether James Ennis would return to the court Monday night for Game 2 of the Sixers’ series against the Nets was not quite as important as whether Joel Embiid would be active.

It says something about the state of the Sixers’ bench, however, that Ennis’ status was significant. Ennis, limited to 12 minutes in his first game back from a right quad contusion which he aggravated on April 3, had six points, three rebounds and an assist, and he played solid perimeter defense in the Sixers’ 145-123 win over the Nets (see observations). Perhaps more importantly, his return prompted Brett Brown to shuffle the roles in the Sixers’ rotation.

Jonathon Simmons and T.J. McConnell, who combined for 26 minutes in Game 1, didn’t play any until the outcome was sealed. With Ennis available, the decision to take Simmons out of the rotation likely was not too difficult. But Brown, always fond of McConnell, found the choice to remove him more challenging.

First, that's a difficult decision because T.J. has been sort of a part of our bloodline for awhile. The energy that he injects is contagious and we all get that. If you study that stat line from the game that we lost, [he was a plus-12], which is pretty good. So you started looking at the ripple effects of what can the others do from a spacial standpoint —  James' ability to stretch the court a little bit more, try to get Jimmy [Butler] the ball as a legitimate backup point guard when Ben [Simmons] wasn't on the court influenced that decision. I thought T.J. handled it as we all thought he would. He's a wonderful teammate.

The one reliable piece in both Games 1 and 2 for the bench was Boban Marjanovic. The Nets have been giving him space to shoot midrange jumpers and — often after glancing around for an open teammate and realizing he’s still free — he’s happily accepted. Marjanovic has 29 points on 13 for 21 shooting in 31 minutes this series.

“We already played one game and I figured out this is my thing,” Marjanovic said. “I didn’t take [jumpers] in my career a lot, but I can shoot, to be honest.”

The 7-foot-3 Marjanovic takes pride in his defense as well. He understands opponents are itching to make him defend on the perimeter, but he playfully took exception to a question about how he’s been able to guard quicker players.

"Somebody's quicker than me?” he asked. “I’m joking. Of course my advantage is my size, to be honest. I know I'm not fast, but I'm not so slow. I use my height. It's my advantage and helps me a lot.”

Marjanovic wasn’t even considering the possibility that he might be required to step into the starting lineup if Embiid’s left knee injury worsens.

"Why would he sit out? Nobody can defend him,” he said. “Why would he sit out?"

Another key part of the bench’s effectiveness in Game 2 was Mike Scott knocking down the shots he normally hits. After a 1 for 8 shooting performance in Game 1, Scott shot 5 for 7 (3 for 5 from three-point range) Monday night. He had 15 points, one of five Sixers to score between 15 and 23.

“That’s how it has to be — play together,” Scott said. “Everybody’s going to score, everybody’s going to eat. We have a talented group.”

The winner of the much-discussed “tournament” for backup wing minutes, Ennis said he “has no clue” whether he’ll still be on a minutes restriction for Game 3, noting that decision would be determined by the training staff. For now, he said he’s aiming to make the most of the time he gets. 

He enjoyed his 12 minutes on the floor and a stress-free fourth quarter.

“We just shared the game,”  Ennis said. “Everybody had a good time out there, everybody was cheering each other on, the bench was into it. It was a good overall team win.”

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Sixers Talk podcast: Is Ben Simmons an All-Star? A reunion with Robert Covington?

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Is Ben Simmons an All-Star? A reunion with Robert Covington?

On the latest Sixers Talk podcast presented by Wilmington University, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Ben Simmons' recent play since Joel Embiid went out with an injury, how alarming the Al Horford situation is becoming, and a possible reunion with Robert Covington.

• No, Simmons hasn't scored late in games, but he's been attacking the rim and causing opponents to make plenty of business decisions.

• How worried should we be about Horford's up-and-down season?

• Would a RoCo reunion make sense? What would you give up?

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Sixers Injury Update: Al Horford is questionable vs. Nets with left hand sprain

Sixers Injury Update: Al Horford is questionable vs. Nets with left hand sprain

The Sixers might be without their best two center options for Monday afternoon’s game against the Brooklyn Nets.

Al Horford is questionable with a left hand sprain. He sustained the injury with 6:31 left in the third quarter Saturday night vs. the Knicks after being fouled by Reggie Bullock.

"Yeah, I just took a fall there, landed on the hand,” Horford told reporters. “We’ll see where we’re at tomorrow. It’s pretty sore right now, but I’m just glad I was able to stay in the game and give the team whatever I could. … It’s definitely uncomfortable. In this game you always play through injuries and things like that. I just wanted to make sure that I did what I could. We’ll see where I’m at tomorrow, and hopefully good to go for Monday.”

Horford scored a season-low four points vs. the Knicks on 2 for 9 shooting. In the six games since Joel Embiid has been out because of a torn ligament in the ring finger of his left hand, the Sixers have gone 4-2 with Horford as their starting center.

According to multiple reports, Norvel Pelle will be listed as available but his status could change. The team is in a precarious situation with Pelle, who has one NBA day remaining on his two-way contract. The Sixers have opted against converting Pelle to an NBA deal for the time being to prioritize flexibility ahead of the Feb. 6 trade deadline, which has left them in this spot. The 26-year-old rookie has played 13 NBA games and averaged 2.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

On Friday vs. the Bulls, the Sixers decided not to use up one of Pelle’s NBA days, and Kyle O’Quinn played nearly 16 minutes, his first action of 2020.

It looks like Ben Simmons playing some at center could be a possibility. Brett Brown used Simmons as a small-ball five in the first half on Jan. 9 vs. Boston and after the game said, “I suspect you’ll see it again.”

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