76ers

With Joel Embiid sitting against Hornets, Sixers will have first chance to start Al Horford at center

With Joel Embiid sitting against Hornets, Sixers will have first chance to start Al Horford at center

Updated, Friday, 1:35 p.m.: Shake Milton will start Friday's game, according to The Inquirer's Keith Pompey.

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers have a heap of players on their roster who could easily, if called upon, play center. But, with Joel Embiid set to sit Friday against the Hornets, there was never any real question who would take over down low.

Al Horford will start against Charlotte in the Sixers' second preseason game, Brett Brown said after Thursday’s practice. Embiid won’t play “in accordance with his planned care program,” according to a team spokesperson, but is expected to play in Sunday’s game at the Magic. 

Embiid played in the first half of the Sixers’ Blue x White Scrimmage on Saturday and scored 17 points in 13 minutes Tuesday vs. the Guangzhou Loong-Lions. General manager Elton Brand has said the Sixers will have “daily, strategic, thoughtful consultation” with Embiid. The Sixers made several changes to their medical and performance teams this summer, among them hiring Lorena Torres as performance director and promoting Scott Epsley to medical director (see story).

This will be Brown’s first opportunity to figure out how the Sixers want to play on load management nights for Embiid. Horford is the obvious starting center, but what other shifts might we see?

“I am [excited], because it’s coming,” he said. “To be able to take this opportunity and knowing that it’s coming, that Joel will be out some games this year, I am. What it does is I can move Tobias [Harris] up to a four and fill in underneath. Or I can keep Tobias at a three and start Mike Scott — I’ll figure out what I’m doing. But your point is true, and there are the ripple effects that we have to figure out.”

Brown hadn’t yet made a decision on the replacement for Embid in the starting lineup. Scott is an option, as he said. Starting a wing instead — perhaps impressive rookie Matisse Thybulle — is another possibility. Brown indicated that, at this point, “figuring out what we have” is his highest priority, not tailoring the lineup to best match up against a preseason opponent.

The Sixers signed Horford in part because of this specific scenario. The team was abysmal without Embiid on the floor last year. In games Embiid sat during the regular season, the Sixers had an 8-10 record, and they had a plus-7.6 net rating when he was on the floor compared to a minus-3.5 net rating when he was off it.

Horford is a superior alternative to Greg Monroe, Amir Johnson, Boban Marjanovic or any of the Sixers’ backup centers last season. Kyle O’Quinn is another option the Sixers will be glad to have for games in which Embiid sits.

Scott, a teammate of Horford’s for four seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, gave a strong summary of what the 33-year-old big man will bring to the table.

“He’s too unselfish,” Scott said. “Five-time All-Star. Great person. Plays the right way, makes the extra pass. He could get 20 [points] and [10 rebounds] if he wanted, but he knows his role, plays within the system. Great defender.”

While Ben Simmons hasn’t played much with Horford yet, he knows what the Sixers will get from their starting center Friday night, and throughout the season whenever the team is without Embiid.

“It’s Al Horford,” Simmons said. “Every time I’ve played against him, he gives us a tough time defensively. His IQ is at a high level, and he’s a leader.”



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Sixers at Thunder: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Thunder: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

After falling apart in the fourth quarter Wednesday night for the second time in their past four games, the 7-4 Sixers are back in action Friday.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game against the 4-7 Oklahoma City Thunder:

When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

‘It’s a little bit of everything’

After starting 5-0, the Sixers have lost four of their last six games. The two wins, at home against Charlotte and Cleveland, weren’t easy, either.

What’s gone wrong, outside of the obvious issues with shooting and turnovers, and the minimal time the regular starters have played together?

“It's a little bit of everything,” Ben Simmons told reporters Wednesday night. “There's some things that we definitely need to touch up that I'm sure we'll go back to the film and watch. But it's a long season.”

This is a winnable game for the Sixers, but it’s another one they could lose if they play a couple of rungs below their top level. Oklahoma City is 4-3 at home and has a fascinating backcourt of 34-year-old Chris Paul and 21-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, one of the players shipped to the Thunder in the Paul George trade. Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 20.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists in his second NBA season. 

Harris’ nasty slump 

Tobias Harris is in a terrible slump, having missed his last 23 three-point attempts. He’s now shooting 20.4 percent from three-point range this season, second-worst among all players with at least 40 long range attempts. 

Brett Brown wants Harris to shoot himself out of it (see story).

The situation is starting to resemble that of a No. 3 hitter who hasn’t picked up a hit in a week and desperately wants to just find a hole in the defense and feel what it’s like to stand on base again after making solid contact. Harris will have another chance to break out of it in Oklahoma City.

Some positive recent history 

The Sixers won the last time they were in Oklahoma City, snapping a 19-game losing streak against the Thunder on Feb. 28.

Joel Embiid was out that night, but he’s expected to return tonight after sitting Wednesday (injury management/left knee soreness). Jonah Bolden, who actually started vs. the Thunder back in February and had 14 points on 6 of 7 shooting in the Sixers’ win, is on assignment with the Delaware Blue Coats.

Harris scored 32 points in that February game, his high as a Sixer. 



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How Ben Simmons blocks out distractions to get to better mental state

How Ben Simmons blocks out distractions to get to better mental state

It seems like nowadays everyone is glued to their phone screens. It can consume your time and social media can be a major distraction.

That’s what Ben Simmons came to realize over the last year. 

“I’ll be on my phone when I need to, but if I’m with my family or friends, I’m typically not on it all the time,” Simmons said. “It’s a distraction. Phones are great but they’re also sometimes on the bad side depending on what you’re look at, whether it’s Instagram, Twitter, whatever people are saying. You got to be present, be in the moment.”

There is plenty of negativity on social media — especially for a young, All-Star player like Simmons.

What he’s found is that if he doesn’t focus on what other people are saying about him, it puts him in a better mental state ahead of games.

“Staying off your phone before games, locking in, not letting others determine how you feel mentally,” Simmons said. “Lesser distractions for me, the better I play, which I love. I love going into a game not having any worries besides my teammates or winning a game.”

In an open interview, which you can watch above, Simmons discussed how his focus has changed and how he’s not letting outside voices affect his preparation or play on the court.

NBC Sports Regional Networks has launched a multi-platform campaign on mental health and men's health, HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports, for the month of November. You can find more information about the initiative here.

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