76ers

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

AVALON, N.J. -- Joel Embiid has been waiting since 2014 to make his NBA debut. Two years later, the former third overall pick is nearing that day.

“I feel a hundred percent,” Embiid said Saturday at the Sixers Beach Bash. “I’m ready to get started. My summer has been great. We’ve been working out a lot this past summer, just getting some runs in. I’ve gotten a chance to play a little bit against the guys.” 

Embiid’s pro career has been sidelined by injuries, undergoing two foot surgeries in as many years. The first was to repair a stress fracture in his right navicular bone. The second, a bone-graft operation on the same bone. 

The 7-foot-2 big man has been rehabbing since then, traveling as far as Qatar in the process. This offseason Embiid was cleared for monitored, five-on-five drills. He joined the Sixers during the Las Vegas Summer League to continue his recovery away from game competition.

“It’s been really tough,” Embiid said. “The main thing is, I haven’t gotten a chance to get on the court and play, or help my teammates, or play in front of Sixers fans. I look forward to it and I can’t wait.”

Embiid said he “definitely” plans to be a go for training camp. He expects there will be a transition period once cleared to play given the length of his rehab, but notes he is a quick learner. Embiid also anticipates having restrictions, but has not discussed the specifics with the Sixers. 

“Probably,” he said. “But I think the restrictions would probably be about the fact that I haven’t played in two years. It’s not going to be about because people are worried that I’m going to re-injure myself, which I don’t think is going to happen.”

One player who is eager for Embiid’s return is rookie first overall pick Ben Simmons. The two have been friends since high school. They easily gel off the court, and plan to do the same in games. 

“He has great footwork, he has great touch, so I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Simmons said, continuing, “Off the court, we’re like brothers. We have fun.” 

Embiid has been present with the Sixers for games and practices. He has had numerous conversations with head coach Brett Brown about his days on the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff and how the organization achieved success with fellow big Tim Duncan, one of Embiid’s basketball role models. 

With an abundance of bigs, the Sixers will have to determine how they share the floor. For Embiid, who can also knock down long-range shots, he plans to fill whatever role the coaches outline for him.

“I think I’ll take a couple threes, but I’ll do what’s best for the team and whatever I’ll feel comfortable doing,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to need my presence inside and that’s what I’m going to do. But when I’m open, I might fire some threes.”

After a series of setbacks, Embiid is enthusiastic about the thought of making his NBA debut. 

“It feels great,” he said. “Especially after the past two years, I haven’t been able to do what I love. It just feels great.”  

Sixers know Blazers 'beat our a--' but team needs to move on quickly

Sixers know Blazers 'beat our a--' but team needs to move on quickly

Well, that wasn’t pretty.

Without Joel Embiid, the Sixers were beat up on the boards, 53-33, with 19 of those 53 coming on the offensive glass. They were yet again exposed defensively in the pick-and-roll, allowing a 41-point third quarter. 

It all added up to a 130-115 beatdown by the Blazers at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday afternoon (see observations).

Missing the league’s third-leading rebounder against the league’s second-best rebounding team isn’t ideal, but the Sixers weren’t prepared to use that excuse.

“I think as a team collectively we just didn’t rebound good enough against a team like this,” Ben Simmons said. “It’s a group effort, rebounding, and I think just all of us combined, I don’t think we did enough. Obviously we didn’t do enough.”

The shame of such a dreadful effort is that it took away from one of the best performances of Simmons’ young NBA career. The All-Star made a concerted effort to attack the basket early, posting up on some of Portland’s smaller defenders.

The results were impressive: a season-high 29 points on 11 of 17 shooting, 10 assists and seven rebounds. And those numbers weren’t hollow in the sense that he was excellent from the opening tip. 

Tobias Harris (20 points) and Jimmy Butler (15 points) were also solid. It was the play of the supporting cast that hurt.

JJ Redick made just one field goal on 10 shots. The seven-point performance ended his career-high 64-game double-figure point streak.

After a fantastic game against Miami on Thursday, Boban Marjanovic was exposed mightily against the Blazers. Portland was able to pick on Marjanovic in pick-and-rolls with All-Star guard Damian Lillard and center Jusuf Nurkic. 

Whether it was Marjanovic, Amir Johnson — who oddly supplanted Jonah Bolden in the second half — or Mike Scott when the Sixers went small, it didn’t matter. Nurkic and new backup center Enes Kanter killed the Sixers, combining for 40 points and 18 rebounds.

Despite a significant offensive rebounding gap, the Sixers found themselves down by just three at halftime. Then they allowed the Blazers to shoot 63 percent in a 41-point third period.

Embiid’s absence hurts, but the Sixers had enough talent on the floor to not turn in such a poor defensive effort.

 “Clearly we miss Joel,” Harris said. “There’s no getting around that. He’s a big piece to our team, but we don’t have him right now and we have to be able to get efforts from everybody else on the team.”

In two games against Portland without Embiid, the Sixers have lost by a combined 49 points. 

What can the Sixers take away from a drubbing by the Blazers without Embiid? Not much. They're neck-and-neck with the Celtics and just behind the Pacers for the third seed in the East. 

The only thing they can really do is move on to the Pelicans — who may or may not have All-NBA big Anthony Davis in the lineup — in a road matchup on Monday night. Their focus should be there, not on Portland.

“Learn and get better from it,” Butler said. “Put it behind us. What else can you do? They beat our a-- twice.”

Butler, who was as somber as we’ve seen after a loss, was asked why this lost seemed to sting so much.

“Because they beat our a-- twice. Easily, too.”

On to New Orleans.

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Blazers 130, Sixers 115: Without Joel Embiid, Sixers beat up on glass, scoreboard

Blazers 130, Sixers 115: Without Joel Embiid, Sixers beat up on glass, scoreboard

BOX SCORE

Joel Embiid's absence was certainly felt on Saturday.

Without the All-Star center, the Sixers were beat up on the glass and on the scoreboard in a 130-115 loss to the Blazers in a matinee at the Wells Fargo Center.

This one wasn't pretty. The sold out crowd started clearing their seats with a little over five minutes left in the third.

The loss drops the Sixers to 24-8 at home and 38-22 overall.

Here are observations from the loss.

• Defense — especially from a communication standpoint with new pieces — continues to be an issue at times, but in the first half, the Sixers were solid in this one, holding Portland to 41 percent shooting. In the second half, Blazers coach Terry Stotts exposed more mismatches and the Sixers didn't have answers, letting Portland shoot 63 percent in a 41-point third quarter.

• What hurt most in the first half was the Blazers hitting the offensive glass. Portland grabbed an incredible 14 offensive rebounds before halftime. Overall, the Blazers outrebounded the Sixers, 53-33. Boban Marjanovic seems to struggle in controlling rebounds. What also hurt was when Marjanovic got in pick-and-roll situations with Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic. On those plays, Marjanovic is scrambling defensively, which hurts him on the boards.

• In general, Nurkic gave Marjanovic a hard time. Brett Brown actually went to Amir Johnson, fresh off his stint with the Delaware Blue Coats on Friday night, early in the third quarter to try to mitigate some of the defensive issues … it did not help. Brown also tried tried to go small, going with Mike Scott at the five, also with poor results. It was odd that Brown didn't go back to Jonah Bolden, who was solid defensively in the first half.

Nurkic went for 24 points and 10 rebounds and new backup Enes Kanter went for 16 points and eight rebounds.

• Things normally go well for Ben Simmons when he’s aggressive and looking for his shot early. He did so in this one and picked up where he left off against the Heat, where he punished them in the post.

He attacked Portland’s smaller guards early and often and it seemed to help him get into the flow of the game.

He also took another mid-range jumper from the left wing that was in and out. It looked like he thought about pulling up from three, but took a couple dribbles in and pulled up. In that situation, he’s probably better off taking the three and looking to get the extra point on a low-percentage shot.

Despite the loss, Simmons was good in this one, finishing with 29 points (11 of 17), 10 assists and seven rebounds. It's a shame one of his better NBA performances was wasted in a blowout.

• During the All-Star break, Simmons referred to Tobias Harris as a “silent assassin" while on ESPN’s The Jump. It’s such a perfect way to put it. There’s nothing flashy to Harris’ game, he’s just really, really good.

As much as having an experienced backup five like Boban Marjanovic can help mitigate the absence of Embiid — obviously not on Saturday — it’s even more crucial that the Sixers have another elite scorer like Harris. He’s stepped up with the All-Star center out the last two games. It wasn't enough, but he was also big, recording 20 points (8 of 14, 3 of 7 from three) and eight rebounds.

• Jimmy Butler’s aggressiveness offensively is certainly a good sign for the Sixers. He scored the first two buckets of the game for the Sixers and looked to get to the basket frequently.

The amount of body control he has in the air is insane. On one play, T.J. McConnell attempted an alley-oop but the pass was a little too high for Butler to finish. Butler was able to gather it, come down with it, dribble from underneath the basket and get an easy basket on the other side of the rim.

Butler had 15 points (5 of 9). The Sixers' three stars were all good in this one. Everyone else ... not so much.

• JJ Redick went to the All-Star break playing some of his best basketball, shooting 48 percent from three over the 11 games prior to the break. In his first two after the break, he's really struggled. He was just 4 for 12 (3 of 10 from three) on Thursday vs. Miami. Those struggles continued Saturday as Redick scored just seven points on 1 of 10 (1 of 5 from three).

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