76ers

Markelle Fultz out indefinitely with right shoulder injury

usa-markelle-fultz-sixers.jpg
USA Today Images

Markelle Fultz out indefinitely with right shoulder injury

HOUSTON — Markelle Fultz will take more time before he returns to the court. The question is, how much? 

Fultz is out indefinitely because of soreness and scapular muscle imbalance in his right shoulder, the Sixers said Sunday. He will be reevaluated in approximately three weeks. 

The 2017 No. 1 pick has been meeting with multiple specialists, all who have confirmed Fultz does not have structural damage. Fultz met Sunday with Dr. Ben Kibler, medical director of the Shoulder Center of Kentucky at the Lexington Clinic. Dr. Kibler will perform the next reevaluation. Prior to that visit, Fultz also met with two Major League Baseball team doctors. 

Fultz has been hampered by his shoulder all season. He has been going through physiotherapy to treat it. The injury is unique in the sense there is no clear cause, a specific fall or collision on the court. 

Add to that, the visible issue with Fultz’s shot, naming his free throws. Part of rehabbing his shoulder is determining if Fultz altered his form because of his shoulder, or if his shoulder pain impacted his shot. 

"There was no medical reason not to play him," Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said Wednesday. "He was cleared to play and he wanted to play. That's why he was playing. His reluctance to shoot, obviously his shot mechanics have been affected by whatever's going on, or vice versa."

Fultz has appeared in four games this season (6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists), all off the bench. The Sixers initially announced Wednesday he would miss three games and be reevaluated this coming Tuesday. He will continue his training with the team during this rehab period.

This news is the latest in the series of events surrounding Fultz’s shoulder this past week. Last Tuesday Fultz’s agent, Raymond Brothers, told ESPN Fultz had his shoulder drained. Hours later, Brothers said Fultz had received a cortisone shot. The following day, Colangelo stated, “Nothing's wrong with Markelle Fultz,” and that the team and Fultz had come to a mutual decision to sit out at least the next three games. 

"No one's panicking inside. The sky's not falling," Colangelo said last week. "Markelle Fultz is going to be a great basketball player for this organization and we're confident that we're going to get this thing resolved."

Sixers 128, Cavs 105: Jimmy Butler returns, Ben Simmons posts triple-double

Sixers 128, Cavs 105: Jimmy Butler returns, Ben Simmons posts triple-double

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers’ home loss to the Cavaliers on Nov. 23 was, at the time, likely their worst of the season. For a while Sunday, it appeared they might have a new, strong contender, as Cleveland took a 44-34 second-quarter lead.

But the Sixers avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season, pulling away in the fourth quarter to beat the Cavs, 128-105, behind Ben Simmons’ third triple-double of the season (22 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds). Joel Embiid had 24 points and nine rebounds, while Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup after missing the past two games with a strained groin and had 19 points. 

The Sixers are now 20-11 on the season, 6-8 on the road.

• Simmons had another sharp, attacking start, scoring nine of the Sixers’ first 14 points.

In several other games this season, Simmons hasn’t sustained his early aggression. Against Cleveland, his drive never diminished.

When Embiid and Butler sat early in the second quarter, Simmons’ ability to establish deep post position, score and distribute effectively in a point forward role was crucial in Cleveland not running away with the game.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Simmons’ performance? He didn’t turn the ball over. 

• In a familiar, unsurprising turn of events, the Sixers’ first-quarter lead disappeared soon after the second unit entered. As we’ve noted before, the Sixers’ bench is thin, and their perimeter defense is subpar. The Cavs have a few players who can create shots off the dribble, but they’re not the type of opponent that should pose serious problems to a team with NBA Finals aspirations. 

• Mike Muscala had perhaps his worst game as a Sixer in Friday’s night loss vs. the Pacers, shooting 1 for 8 and looking out of sync with his teammates on both ends of the floor. Brett Brown attributed Muscala’s poor performance, in part, to his return from an upper respiratory infection. 

Muscala looked more like himself Sunday, with eight points, six rebounds and three blocks. 

• Butler didn’t attempt a shot and was scoreless in the first quarter. He’s averaged just 4.0 points in the first quarter with the Sixers. While the Sixers could get Butler more involved on offense early, you sense his slow starts are in part because of his efforts to blend into the Sixers’ offense and defer to Simmons and Embiid. 

• The Sixers allowed a total of 114 second-half points during their two-game losing streak. Their defense after halftime was improved in Cleveland, as the Cavs had much less success in transition than in the first half and there were far fewer issues with the Sixers’ communication and rotations.

• On Friday, the Sixers got just 21 points outside of Embiid, Simmons, and JJ Redick. Those three were, as usual, the Sixers’ go-to players offensively, but they received more help against the Cavs.

Landry Shamet caught fire in the fourth quarter, shooting 6 for 7 on the afternoon and tying his career high with 16 points.

Wilson Chandler, who was scoreless vs. the Pacers, chipped in 11 points, including an important three-pointer at the end of the third quarter to stop a 12-0 Cavs run.

• It was nice for the Sixers not to have to deal with Tristan Thompson on the offensive glass. Cleveland had six offensive rebounds Sunday. Thompson had eight by himself on Nov. 23. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers weekly observations: Lack of depth, lack of point guard shooting, and Joel Embiid’s resurgence

Sixers weekly observations: Lack of depth, lack of point guard shooting, and Joel Embiid’s resurgence

For the first time since October, the Sixers had a losing week, with a win over the Pistons on Monday followed by defeats vs. the Nets on Wednesday and Pacers on Friday with Jimmy Butler sidelined by a strained groin.

At 19-11, the Sixers sit at No. 4 in the Eastern Conference, though the standings are constantly shifting. The Sixers are a game behind the Bucks, a half game behind Indiana and a half game ahead of the Celtics.

In this week’s observations, we look at Joel Embiid’s resurgence, the Sixers’ weakness on the bench, a telling stat and more.

• Joel Embiid’s “slump” is officially over. Embiid averaged 32.3 points on 55.3 percent shooting, 15.3 rebounds, and four assists over the past week. He’s drawing fouls at a high rate again too, with 38 free throw attempts in his last three contests. 

It wasn’t too difficult to sense the exasperation of Domantas Sabonis and Kyle O’Quinn on Friday night when, on back-to-back possessions, Embiid drew fouls on them with his sweep-through move during his dominant, 28-point first half. 

• As we’ve harped on several times, the Sixers have a paucity of strong defenders outside of their stars. That weakness is most apparent against a team like the Nets, whose guards target players like Furkan Korkmaz and Landry Shamet and post career highs.

When they’re not hitting shots, players like Korkmaz, Shamet and Mike Muscala go from having a neutral or slightly positive value to being major negatives. 

If you exclude Embiid, Ben Simmons and JJ Redick, the Sixers shot 8 for 32 vs. the Pacers. You can label such a performance an outlier. But subpar defense has been the norm, and as a result, poor shooting from the Sixers’ role players just about guarantees a loss. 

The Pacers, Bucks and Celtics are each within the top-six in the NBA in bench plus-minus, while the Sixers are No. 16, at minus-0.6. 

• Here’s an interesting stat: The Sixers have three of the top five guards in the NBA in terms of field goal percentage. Two-way player Demetrius Jackson is technically No. 1 — he made his only shot this season in garbage time of the Sixers’ win over the Knicks on Sep. 28. While Jackson's place isn’t worth any deep analysis, Simmons coming in at No. 4 (57.3 percent) and T.J. McConnell at No. 5 (57.1 percent) is telling.

The positive spin is that Simmons and McConnell know their spots on the floor, and they’re good at converting in their comfort zones.

The less positive spin is that neither player has strayed from their comfort zones very often. To be fair to McConnell, his shot distribution is very similar to what it was less season. He had 49.2 percent of his attempts from 10 feet or fewer last season and is at 49.1 percent through the Sixers’ first 30 games.

Simmons’ range has actually shrunk, which, along with his improved post-up play, helps explain why his shooting is up a couple percentage points. Only 11.2 percent of his field goal attempts have been from 10 feet and out, down from last season’s 20.4 percent. 

The Sixers’ point guards shoot a higher percentage than any other team’s. They also space the floor worse than any other team’s point guards. Embiid is forced to float out to the perimeter when Simmons occupies the post. And it's much easier to effectively double-team the Sixers' big man when opponents can aggressively send help off Simmons or McConnell, who usually station themselves in the short corner on Embiid post-ups.

• After the loss to the Pacers, Embiid didn’t pretend the Sixers have nothing to worry about. He acknowledged the team’s fundamental defensive issues and said the Sixers are “still learning how to play with each other.”

But he also said this: 

We’ll be fine. We’re not on red alert. It’s two games; the season is long. We’re going to go to Cleveland. Last time they beat us, so we’re going to go there for revenge. We’re going to want to punch them in the mouth because we lost against them, which shouldn’t have happened. That’s going to be a good game. But the season is long. Hopefully we get Jimmy back against Cleveland and it’ll be a better game.

That perspective from Embiid is fair enough. The Sixers’ defense is a serious concern, and you have to strain your imagination to picture their current bench playing in the NBA Finals. But, even after two straight losses, the Sixers have five more wins than at this point last season.

A loss in Cleveland, though, would edge the Sixers a little closer to red alert.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers