After posting 21 points and 14 rebounds in the Sixers’ 115-104 win over the Spurs Friday night, Joel Embiid is expected to play Saturday vs. the Miami Heat as well, his first back-to-back set of the season.
He didn’t seem pleased with the fact that him playing two consecutive basketball games is a notable story.
It doesn't matter,” Embiid said. “I want to play every game. Load management, that's some BS. I want to play every game. I want to be on the court, building the chemistry with my teammates. Hopefully, we get [Josh Richardson] back and we get to play with each other, keep learning — that's how we're going to win. Especially when it comes to playoff time, so I want to play every game. I'm tired of sitting. I just want to play.
Richardson missed his second straight game Friday with right hip flexor tightness. The Sixers’ regular starting five has only played 70 minutes together in 15 regular-season games.
Load management has been a delicate subject with Embiid. Though he talked at media day about his trust in Elton Brand and the Sixers’ medical and performance teams, Embiid has previously objected to mandated rest on the basis that he gets out of shape and out of rhythm quickly.
The Sixers have framed the issue as a collaborative process.
“This whole thing is very, very scrutinized, discussed, studied with a handful of people,” Brett Brown said Wednesday. “Really, I’m not saying led by Joel, but with a significant voice in all of it — an opinion. It had been discussed a while ago that this was going to be one of the first back-to-backs that we were going to look at. We hope that’s true. We hope that’s the wise thing to do. I’m looking forward to getting as much of Joel Embiid as I can.”
For Embiid, Brown and the Sixers, the goal is for the All-Star center to be healthy and in optimal condition for playoff basketball. Last season, when Embiid played 54 of the Sixers’ first 58 games, that didn’t happen — he dealt with lingering left knee tendinitis in the second half of the year, missed Game 3 of the team’s first-round series against the Nets and was a perpetual game-time decision throughout the postseason.
This summer, the Sixers hired Lorena Torres as performance director and promoted Scott Epsley to medical director.
Brand also noted on Oct. 5 that he’d “be more a part of it with the players in a partnership for their care.”
“I felt like for their daily care, changes needed to be made,” Brand said, “but I’m confident in the changes we have made.”
Embiid’s comment Friday was a shift in attitude from his stance on media day.
“We had some type of load management specialist come in to just figure out all the math and analytics,” he said. “And then we just figured out together what’s best for me and the way to do it. If I remember correctly, last year from the beginning I played a lot of minutes and it might’ve affected me, so this year we’ve gotta have a different approach.”
He’s averaged 29.3 minutes per game after playing 33.7 in 2018-19 and was on the floor for just 27 vs. San Antonio. The obvious way to play fewer minutes overall in the beginning of the year, however, would be to play fewer games, including back-to-backs.
Embiid is not the first Sixer to express a negative opinion on load management. Al Horford accepted his day off Nov. 12 vs. the Cavs, but it sure wasn’t his idea.
“There was definitely some pushback, but at the end of the day, I trust the people, our medical staff,” he said at the time. “They’re really looking out for me and for all of us. … I’ll be cheerleading tonight, and then get ready for tomorrow.”
The Sixers’ next back-to-back is next Friday against the Knicks and Saturday vs. the Pacers. As those games approach, “load management” will surely be a popular phrase among fans and reporters, but perhaps not for Embiid himself.
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