76ers

Joel Embiid wants to play every game the rest of the way

Joel Embiid wants to play every game the rest of the way

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The Sixers have been looking for ways to get Joel Embiid rest before the postseason. The most obvious solution would be sitting him for an entire game.

Except Embiid has no interest in doing that.

“I’m playing in every game,” Embiid said following his 59th appearance of the season. 

The Sixers have 12 games remaining prior to the playoffs. Six are in variations of home-away back-to-backs, starting with Thursday’s matchup in Orlando in which Embiid is expected to play. 

His minutes have jumped this season to 31 per game, a serious leap for the player who had been under tight restrictions. The Sixers, who are now currently the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference (see standings), need a healthy Embiid to succeed in the postseason. They are eyeing time off for him and other high-minutes players. 

“I think that there will be a game that we do do that,” Brett Brown said. “He’s just so ridiculously competitive and he so much wants to please the fans of Philadelphia. He so much wants to please the fans of Philadelphia. I think that for us to say he’s going to play every one of the remaining games after tonight, 12 of them, is not going to happen. But I bet it comes with a fight.”

Brown is right. Embiid has been making his case to remain in the lineup. 

“We didn’t come this far to rest me,” Embiid said following the Sixers’ 119-105 win over the Grizzlies on Wednesday (see observations). “I mean, I was always complaining about playing every game and playing back-to-backs. I’m sure the fans were, too. 

“Now that we’re here, I can understand maybe the last game before we get ready for the playoffs, but other than that, I want to play every game because that’s my first time I get the chance to do that.”

The reasons to rest are pretty clear. The grind of the season can take its toll, especially on a player who never has come close to playing this amount of basketball. Embiid, though, thrives on consistency and repetition. He’s averaging 25.0 points and 14.0 rebounds in five games on no days’ rest. 

“You stay in shape,” Embiid said. “I’m the type of guy that when I miss a day or two and I don’t really do anything, I get out of shape really quick. Just being consistent about playing and not missing two or three days. I know my body … I want to keep going. Honestly, I’ve been feeling really good. I haven’t been tired, so I’ve just got to keep it going.”

Brown sees that perspective, having coached players over his career who have had the same mentality.

“Too much time off wasn’t desirable," Brown said. "It sounds attractive but the maniacal ones especially, you feel like you’re just not as well prepared, I think to strike that balance of the rest versus rhythm is always a challenge. I don’t think it’s a generic formula.”

Another solution: Building — and maintaining — big enough leads to rest in the fourth. The Sixers led the Grizzlies by 30 after three quarters, which allowed all the starters to sit the entire final quarter. Embiid played only 19 minutes and 33 seconds. 

Sixers Talk podcast: How hot is head coach Brett Brown's seat getting?

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Sixers Talk podcast: How hot is head coach Brett Brown's seat getting?

On the latest edition of NBC Sports Philadelphia's Sixers Talk podcast, the crew dives into Brett Brown's job security, the Sixers' playoff prospects down in the bubble, and much more.

(1:35) — Are the Sixers giving fans a reason to be optimistic?
(15:58) — Might be time to lower the playoff expectations
(29:35) — How hot is Brett Brown's seat getting?

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Brett Brown thinks Sixers' fourth-quarter defense 'stinks,' so what are the answers?

Brett Brown thinks Sixers' fourth-quarter defense 'stinks,' so what are the answers?

The Sixers’ late-game defense in their first two seeding games has been subpar. They allowed 46 fourth-quarter points Saturday against the Pacers and escaped with a 132-130 win over the Spurs on Monday night despite conceding 43 points in the fourth. 

Brett Brown is, to put it mildly, not pleased. 

I think it stinks,” he said Monday in a video conference call. “I think it’s not anything that we are or believe in or talk about. We were very lucky to win tonight. … The good news is it is well within our reach immediately to flip the switch. We need to have an immediate paradigm shift and an admittance that we can’t afford to pick and choose. And in the last two games we have done that.

“I give credit to Indiana, and certainly the Spurs tonight — those guys scored. Their three scorers scored. But in general, it ain’t going to get it done. It’s not who we are and it needs to be fixed, and fixed it will be. And it needs to start with the mentality, and I know our players understand that. It’s not like that speech I just gave is a mystery. They’re smart enough to know it to be true.

With a 178.0 defensive rating in fourth quarters at Disney World, the Sixers are worst in that statistic by over 38 points. It would be stunning if their fourth-quarter defense remains anywhere near this poor. 

The team’s first two games in a “bubble” during a pandemic with assigned bench seating and virtual fans have been somewhat odd, as one might expect. Instead of labored, inefficient offense and solid defense, we’ve seen a team that’s scoring just fine but far from sturdy on the other side of the ball. One Sixer who hasn’t often resembled his pre-hiatus self is Ben Simmons, a strong First Team All-Defense candidate. 

Per NBA.com/Stats, opponents have shot 17 of 24 when defended by Simmons (70.8 percent) in Florida. He’d held opponents to 41.3 percent shooting before the NBA’s suspension, the lowest mark of any Sixers regular, and thrived against high-level scorers. T.J. Warren and DeMar DeRozan have had success against him.

Some of the answers to this problem for the Sixers should be simple. Simmons, who fouled out in 25 minutes Monday, has to show these were merely two games below his normal high standards. Collectively, the Sixers need to be stingier against dribble penetration and close out on shooters with greater urgency and effort.

A schematic tweak or two might be advisable down the line. It appeared early in the year that the Sixers would be significantly more willing to blitz the pick-and-roll and generally play aggressive defense under new de facto defensive coordinator Ime Udoka. The team’s default pick-and-roll coverage with Joel Embiid on the court remains having the guard try to work over the screen and Embiid dropping. (Al Horford often plays "up to touch," or a little higher up.) That’s the norm across the NBA, but perhaps the Sixers could be a bit more flexible in choosing when they deviate from it. 

“We’ve gotta do a better job defensively to be the best defensive team in the league,” Embiid said, “so we’ve just gotta take the challenge. … The last two games, we haven’t been able to keep our man in front of us. We’ve just gotta do a better job, and in those situations I’ve just gotta do a better job of protecting the paint and making sure I correct some mistakes.”

Ultimately, it’s improbable that the Sixers will make a deep playoff run unless the team’s defense in its opening seeding games ends up looking like an aberration. 

“One thing that we have to get to is understanding that we know we can score,” Tobias Harris said, “but at the end of the day we can make these games a whole lot easier if we lock in defensively and get stops and let that fuel our offense — it makes us more efficient.”

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