For the third straight season, the Sixers will be dealing with an injury to one of their stars after the All-Star break.
Ben Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and will be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks, a team source confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia. That doesn’t mean Simmons will be back in two weeks. The Sixers will be without the All-Star point guard for at least that long with just 24 regular-season games left.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, this is nothing new. The last two seasons have seen Joel Embiid deal with injuries after the break. Now, they’ll be without the normally durable Simmons.
In the last two instances of missing one of their franchise cornerstones — though the Sixers are hoping this absence will be shorter — the team has had mixed success.
In 2017-18, Embiid suffered an orbital bone fracture after he collided with Markelle Fultz. Embiid missed the final eight games of the regular reason and the first two of the playoffs against the Heat. The Sixers won all eight of those games — part of a 16-game winning streak to close the season — and Game 1 against Miami.
Much like this year’s team, the 2017-18 squad benefited from a soft schedule. Just three of the 16 wins during that streak came against playoff teams — the LeBron James-led Cavs, the East’s seventh seed, Milwaukee, and the West’s eighth seed, Minnesota. As of this posting, this year’s team has the second-easiest schedule in the NBA over the last 24 games.
The team of two years ago had also acquired veterans Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova on the buyout market. While players of that caliber likely won’t be available this time around, GM Elton Brand already acquired a strong veteran duo in Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III. Belinelli and Ilyasova resurrected a bench that had issues scoring all season. The Sixers are currently 27th in the NBA in terms of bench scoring. Burks and Robinson likely won't have that profound of an impact, but they should help.
The biggest commonality that the 2019-20 team shares with the 2017-18 squad is that the star that was playing was doing so at a high level. Simmons nearly averaged a triple-double in those 16 games (14 points, 10.4 assists, 9.8 rebounds) and had one of the finest stretches of his career.
In his last five games — even when you include his rough night in Milwaukee — Embiid has averaged 31.8 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.8 steals. He’s also shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. His aggressive nature is obvious in the fact that he’s averaging 13.6 free throw attempts a game in that stretch.
While the team kept things afloat two years ago without Embiid, it didn’t go as well last season. In the 24 games after it was announced that Embiid was dealing with left knee tendinitis, he played in just 10. The Sixers went 7-3 in those games and 7-7 in the ones missed.
Like this year’s team, that squad also had issues with fit. They were trying to integrate Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris along with Simmons. It didn’t quite work out like the Sixers would’ve hoped. Embiid coming in and out of the lineup likely didn’t help the continuity problems. This season, Al Horford’s clunky fit offensively has forced the veteran big to become a reserve at times and forced Brett Brown to lessen his minutes next to Embiid.
The circumstances are more similar to two years ago than last year’s team, but there’s no question the Sixers face a huge new challenge without Simmons. They sit fifth in the East and have just 24 games to make up ground. Let’s see how this year’s version handles that adversity.
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