76ers

With Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler out, Sixers wisely focused more on big picture

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USA Today Images

With Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler out, Sixers wisely focused more on big picture

The Sixers will be without the services of Jimmy Butler (back) Monday and Joel Embiid (knee/load management) for Monday and Wednesday.

If they’re unable to beat the lowly Mavericks and Hawks, you might as well pack it in. They have no shot to reach the NBA Finals if they lose these next two games in Dallas and Atlanta. Brett Brown should lose his job right after the sure losses. All these bold moves by Elton Brand for naught!

But seriously, is it more important to beat two teams that are a combined 37 games below .500 or deliver Embiid and Butler to the playoffs healthy? Maybe those two things aren’t mutually exclusive, but then again, maybe they are. Besides, the Sixers have a 4.5 game lead for the East's third seed with six games to play. How much is really at stake here?

That’s not to say Embiid and Butler missing time is ideal. The Sixers’ new-look starting five doesn’t have much experience together. They still need to develop a little more chemistry — especially on the defensive end.

But look at what they’ve done when they’ve played together. They’re 8-2 in 10 games when they’ve all started. They took down the team with the best record in the NBA on the road and finally beat their boogeyman in Boston. Among current NBA starting lineups that have played at least 160 minutes together, the Sixers’ unit has the best net rating at 17.6. They also have a plus-7.5 point differential, the highest mark of any five-man lineup that’s played at least 10 games together.

Last week, NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh wrote an in-depth piece examining how important it is for teams to be peaking going into the playoffs. Haberstroh basically proved that momentum going into the NBA playoffs is a myth.

Take last year’s Golden State Warriors. They stumbled into the playoffs, losing six of their final 10 games and 10 of their final 17. In Game No. 82, the Warriors suffered the worst defeat under Steve Kerr, getting trampled by the Utah Jazz by 40 points even with Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green playing. It’s hard to imagine a team more out of sorts on their quest to repeat.

If you hit the panic button and sold all your Warriors stock right then, well … poor move by you.

Golden State proceeded to go 16-5 in the postseason and were so good that they swept the Finals, the first 4-0 championship series since 2007. Meanwhile, the Cavs team the Warriors swept entered the postseason victorious in 11 of their final 14 contests. Hot, cold, lukewarm -- it didn’t seem to matter.

Sixers fans need look no further than the team they root for as a prime example. The Sixers took a 16-game winning streak into the playoffs last season, capped by a Markelle Fultz triple-double in the regular season finale. By Game 2 against the Heat, the Sixers clearly needed Embiid, who was recovering from a facial fracture, while Fultz played his way out of the playoff rotation. Chemistry is important, but nothing is more important than having your best players healthy in a talent-driven league.

While it’s not great for a team to turn it off and on, the Sixers do appear to have the ability to do so. The wins over the Bucks and Celtics show what they can do when they're locked in. Their recent letdown loss to the Hawks shows what happens when they just coast through a game.

When the Sixers are fully engaged come playoff time, a healthy Embiid and Butler will mean more than the results of the last six games of the regular season.

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Ben Simmons puts on early show, Joel Embiid comes on late as Team LeBron beats Team Giannis in NBA All-Star Game

Ben Simmons puts on early show, Joel Embiid comes on late as Team LeBron beats Team Giannis in NBA All-Star Game

The Sixers were well represented by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago Sunday.

Ultimately, Team LeBron won a thrilling — well, at least the fourth quarter was — game over Team Giannis, 157-155, on an Anthony Davis free throw. Kawhi Leonard won the newly named Kobe Bryant All-Star Game MVP Award scoring a game-high 30 points.

Embiid, playing without the splint on his left hand for the first time since having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left ring finger, got Team Giannis on the board with an early dunk.

Then Simmons put on a show.

Simmons had 10 points, three rebounds and three assists in the first half.

The NBA decided to break away from its traditional game format, making each quarter its own mini-game. That means each period had its own tip-off.

And would you look at who was squaring off to start the second.

(Simmons won the tip, by the way)

Not to be outdone, Embiid had a couple fancy dunks of his own as Team Giannis built a lead in the third.

Simmons also had this beauty of a put-back dunk for good measure.

He took a spill at the end but appeared no worse for wear for the rest of the game.

Another wrinkle in the new format this year is that the fourth quarter wasn’t timed, and the teams played to a “target score.” In honor of Kobe Bryant, the “target score” was 157 — 24 more points than what Team Giannis, who was in the lead, had total heading into the fourth quarter.

With Team Giannis nearing that point total, Embiid made his presence felt down the stretch, including dropping this nasty Dream Shake on LeBron James.

Both Embiid (22 points, 10 rebounds) and Simmons (17 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals) showed why they were selected for the game.

They’ll return to the court for the Sixers Thursday against the Nets at the Wells Fargo Center.

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Sixers Talk podcast: Are the Sixers still a Finals contender?

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Are the Sixers still a Finals contender?

The Sixers are off to a solid start for any team, but the Sixers were built to be a championship contender. Danny Pommells and Anthony Gilbert discuss that and who will take up the open role in the starting lineup on this edition of Sixers Talk, presented by Wilmington University.

• Are the Sixers still a Finals contender? (2:00)

• Who will move into the starters lineup in place of Al Horford? (6:34)

• Did the Sixers miss on the trade deadline? (10:31)

• This team lacks veteran leadership (20:42)

• Story time with Anthony Gilbert (29:03)

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