Sixers acknowledge they 'need Joel Embiid' after Game 2 loss

Sixers acknowledge they 'need Joel Embiid' after Game 2 loss


Joel Embiid wants to play, and the Sixers want him back too.

Even before Embiid posted the Instagram story, “F------ sick and tired of being babied” (see story), Brett Brown knew the Sixers needed the help of their All-Star center. 

“When you’re seeking to become a whole team, you need Joel Embiid,” Brown said.  

Embiid has missed the last 10 games because of a left orbital fracture and concussion suffered on March 28. He cleared the NBA’s concussion protocol but remains sidelined by the fracture, which he underwent surgery to repair. 

Though Embiid has been hungry to return, he was able to stay patient because the Sixers were winning without him, including a Game 1 blowout. It took just one loss for him to express his desire to play on social media, and state it very clearly. 

“He just wants to play basketball,” Brown said in response to the post following the Sixers’ 113-103 loss Monday to even the series (see observations). “He wants to be with his team, he wants to play in front of the fans and he wants to see this through. When he’s not able to do that, he gets frustrated, and I respect his frustrations. It’s born out of him wanting to be with his team.”

The Sixers’ loss to the Heat highlighted they cannot rely on their long-range shooting to get through the series. It had been a key to their success during the 16-game winning streak at the end of the regular season and a major factor in Game 1 (18 for 28). On Monday, they went just 7 for 36 on the night, including a 1-for-8 start in the first quarter (see highlights)

“When you look at those games when we won, we scored over 100 points,” Ersan Ilyasova said. “Now we’re kind of struggling offensively because they kind of apply a lot of pressure to us. … With Jo, he gives us more to kind of create and dump the ball and post up and see him create shots for others.” 

The Sixers have experimented with different looks at the five spot. Amir Johnson started Game 1. Ilyasova got the start in Game 2 after the Sixers found success with him playing center off the bench in the series opener. As much as the Sixers can come up with mismatches, there is no replacing Embiid, who ended his second regular season averaging 22.9 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. 

“When the game slows down and you know you need a guaranteed bucket, you can throw it into Jo,” Johnson said. “Everything else will take care of itself. It causes foul trouble for them because he gets their bigs or whoever’s guarding him in foul trouble, which gets us early to the line.” 

The Heat amped up their physical play in Game 2. Don’t expect them to let up, especially going back to their home court for the next two games on Thursday and Saturday. 

“Jo adds more depth overall,” Robert Covington said. “This game is a game of physicality. Jo brings that in so many different ways and that would help us a lot.”

There is no date set for Embiid's return. Brown has said the Sixers are not going to rush him back if he is not healthy. It would be ideal for the team to get him involved in a practice environment before he plays, both for his conditioning and to integrate him back into a system that has been adjusted in his absence. When that game arrives, Embiid and the Sixers will be ready. 

“He’s a superstar,” Johnson said. “Any chance you can get him whenever he’s healthy, he’ll definitely impact the game.”  

Trey Burke showing why Sixers brought him here

Trey Burke showing why Sixers brought him here

When Trey Burke had an opportunity to sign with the Sixers this summer, he jumped on it.

He expressed his desire to get back to winning, like he did at Michigan when he was named national college player of the year. The fact that he’d be playing in the city where his idol Allen Iverson starred was also a great perk.

But ultimately, he just thought he had the skills that could help the Sixers and allow him to earn minutes. In Wednesday night’s 109-104 win over the Knicks, Burke proved that and more. 

Trailing by as many as 17 points in the third quarter, Brett Brown was looking for answers. He went to a lineup featuring Burke and Ben Simmons. It’s been a pairing Brown has been reluctant to go to, but it wound up winning the Sixers the game.

“We ended up leaning on Trey Burke as a two,” Brown said, “somebody that could do some stuff off a live ball and I thought his intensity changed the pace, the speed, the energy in the gym.”

When Burke had his first exposure to the Philadelphia media in a conference call, he said he was excited about the possibility of not only competing to back up Simmons, but also play alongside the young All-Star. Burke’s speed suits Simmons’ skill set. As does his ability to shoot the basketball and create his own shot.

Having two proficient ball handlers on the floor allowed the Sixers to get out and run and put the Knicks back on their heels.

“He gets it, I can just run and go. If I can get it, he can just run and go,” Burke said. “It’s our first time playing together so I can’t sit up here and be like, ‘Oh, we love playing with each other.’ But I loved that out there. I liked what I saw. I think coach liked what he saw, as well. I think we complemented each other well. We’ll see going forward.”

Burke numbers weren’t mind blowing (nine points, two assists), but he helped loosen things up.

As Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton both struggled defensively, Brown turned to Simmons to slow down New York’s guards. As Simmons took the game over on both ends, Burke was able to help by using his speed and quickness to take attention away from Simmons.

He also got a timely bucket during the team’s run and helped the Sixers close out the game thanks to his ability to take care of the basketball.

I kept searching trying to find something,” Brown said. “We tried Furk, I went away from him. We tried Shake, I went away from him. ... And then, as I said, you end up going to a point guard, a scoring point guard, like Trey is and treating him like A.I. Letting him just kind of run off the ball and looping him up and giving him the ball and put him in pick-and-rolls. I thought he was really good, but the iterations to get to that were frustrating.

Burke’s NBA road has been a winding one. After falling short of expectations as a top-10 pick, Burke has bounced around from Utah to Washington to New York to Dallas. He hasn’t followed his hero Iverson’s career trajectory, but he’s learned to star in his role.

He didn’t start the season as a regular contributor but has earned minutes recently as the Sixers’ backup point guard in front of Raul Neto. Burke admitted that the irregularity in playing is something that would’ve affected him when he was younger.

Now, he’s ready for whatever opportunity presents itself.

Knowing that I’ve been through it, knowing that I’ve turned it around,” Burke said when asked how he stays prepared. “Last year, playing in the G League … then, playing 30 minutes a night. So, situations can change depending on the mentality that you approach the day with. Besides all of that, just faith. It’s easier said than done. But you’ve gotta have something you can lean on when things get tough. Because we’re humans as well. We go home, face realities like everybody else.

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More on the Sixers

The story of the best day of Furkan Korkmaz's life is adorable

The story of the best day of Furkan Korkmaz's life is adorable

Furkan Korkmaz hitting a game winner for the Sixers in Portland earlier this month was a great moment for Philadelphia fans.

It was the best day of Korkmaz's life.

At least that's the story as told by ESPN's Zach Lowe who has a fantastic look at the state of the Sixers this morning with a focus on the great chemistry surrounding the team this season off of the court.

Lowe's piece opens with a scene in Portland that is just adorable:

The Philadelphia 76ers mobbed Furkan Korkmaz after his winning buzzer-beater in Portland on Nov. 2, but what they have cherished more than the win is the night that unfolded afterward. Tobias Harris organized a gathering at a local club to celebrate. Every player on the trip came but Al Horford, who says he was more or less a DNP-OLD.

They toasted Korkmaz. At one point, Josh Richardson approached Korkmaz and asked what he was feeling. "This is the best day of my life," Korkmaz replied with an earnestness that surprised Richardson. Mike Scott raised his voice an octave to imitate Korkmaz's giddiness in a separate conversation at the club: "'I never felt like this beforeeeeeeee!'"

Korkmaz has been a different player this season, one coach Brett Brown hopes to turn into a serious "bomber" from deep. He's gone from a fringe player on the roster to a guy who has filled in on the starting line up at times this season, including last night against the New York Knicks.

There's plenty of team bonding happening in the Lowe piece and we're also informed that Joel Embiid is a steakhouse kind of guy, which seems about right. There's also a scene in which Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are watching a Lakers game in the team's hotel lobby while on the road. 

You love to see it. 

The chemistry off the court is improving dramatically this season, hopefully that starts to translate to the work on the court. It'd be nice to see Korkmaz have a few more of the "best days of his life" before this season is over.