76ers

Sixers will 'inch (Ben Simmons) back into this,' Brett Brown says

Sixers will 'inch (Ben Simmons) back into this,' Brett Brown says

If the NBA does ultimately resume play in about six weeks at Disney World as planned, health and safety will be prominent storylines for every team traveling to a quasi-bubble during a pandemic. 

For the Sixers, that’s especially true — any new information on Ben Simmons’ lower back or Joel Embiid’s conditioning is notable. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix provided an update on Simmons through a conversation he had with Brett Brown.

“My opinion, and this is not confirmed yet, is that we are going to be able to inch him back into this,” Brown told Mannix. “Is he going to be 100%, I don’t expect that. But I think he is going to be available.”

It’s worth emphasizing that Brown considers his comment an “opinion,” and that it’s not a major departure from any previous update. 

On May 5, Elton Brand said he was “very optimistic (Simmons will) be able to play if and when we’re given that green light to resume.”

On May 15, Brown praised Simmons for his efforts to rehab from the lower back nerve impingement he suffered in February, which Brown described as serious and “disturbing.” 

“It could be a little bit of the silver lining of this pandemic,” he said, “just the fact that you actually have the chance to get somebody like Ben, as important as Ben is, back into our team.” 

The NBA intends to have eight “seeding games” before the postseason, which would begin on Aug. 17. Though the Sixers would have a chance to rise as high as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, those games leading into the postseason clearly wouldn’t be as high-stakes, and they could provide an opportunity for Simmons to ramp up to a higher level of health and fitness. 

Shake Milton had thrived during Simmons’ absence, starting at point guard and averaging 17.8 points and 4.1 assists over his past nine games. However many minutes Simmons is able to play, Milton should retain a key role.

That was actually a point Brown made back on March 10, the day before the NBA season was suspended, in forecasting what might change if/when Simmons returned.  

He's still optimistic about the Sixers' title chances.

"... It’s a melting pot of opportunity," he told Mannix, "albeit under crazy sort of conditions.”

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How to watch Sixers at Rockets: Storylines, live stream, game time and more

How to watch Sixers at Rockets: Storylines, live stream, game time and more

For the first time since the 2011-12 lockout year, the Sixers will play fewer than 82 games in a “regular” season. Their 73rd and final game before the postseason is Friday night against the Rockets.

Joel Embiid (left ankle soreness) and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) are questionable, and Russell Westbrook is out for Houston with a right quad strain. 

Here are the essentials:

When: 9 p.m. with Sixers Pregame Live at 8
Where: AdventHealth Arena
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

All about Monday 

Health and “spirit” are the two things Brett Brown has consistently said he hoped the Sixers would have intact for the postseason. The team’s health is significantly compromised with Ben Simmons out after undergoing surgery on his left knee, which is probably more important than an intangible quality like spirit. That said, the Sixers’ morale doesn’t seem too bad given the circumstances. There’s been a little time for everyone to wrap their head around Simmons’ injury and what it means, and the starting lineup enjoyed cheering on the reserves in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s loss to the Raptors.

The Sixers’ first-round series vs. the Celtics begins Monday night (see series schedule). It sounds simple enough … but just get to tip-off of Game 1 with the healthiest version of the current team. 

Is hot outside shooting sustainable? 

Before the NBA’s hiatus, the Sixers were shooting 36.2 percent from three-point range. They’re at 40.6 percent in Disney World, and Joel Embiid and Shake Milton are the only rotation players below their season averages from long range. 

That large of an increase is likely attributable to a small sample size, at least in part, but it does seem that players like Al Horford, Furkan Korkmaz and Alec Burks are comfortable and shooting with confidence. Perhaps it will carry over to the playoffs. 

Small-ball prep 

The Rockets will finish either No. 4 or No. 5 in the Western Conference, a distinction that means very little when there are no true home games. It would therefore be unsurprising if minutes were limited for Houston’s key players. 

One thing that will be interesting to watch regardless is how the Sixers will handle a team without a conventional center. Houston is an extreme practitioner of small ball, but the Sixers’ top lineups will generally be larger than the Celtics’. Horford’s perimeter defense will be tested by Boston.

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NBA Rumors: Buddy Hield's comments should have Sixers fans intrigued

NBA Rumors: Buddy Hield's comments should have Sixers fans intrigued

The Sixers haven't even started the playoffs, but a potential offseason storyline is already bubbling up.

Kings guard Buddy Hield has been long tied to the Sixers as a potential trade target, from insider chatter to fan speculation, to his accidental (?) fueling of those rumors when he liked an Instagram post earlier this year with a hypothetical trade moving him to Philly.

So when the Kings' season ended Thursday, and Hield was asked if he's comfortable with his role off the bench in Sacramento heading into next season, his answer raised some eyebrows.

Including, I'd imagine, some in Philadelphia.

Here's what Hield had to say:

[Hield] provided a series of short answers during a Zoom session with reporters and offered a cryptic response when asked if he could be content with his role going into next season.

"Y'all know me," Hield said. "Y'all know how I talk. Y'all know how I feel. Y'all can read me well, so I'll let y'all answer that yourselves."

Pretty spicy. That doesn't sound like someone who wants to stay where he is!

Hield signed a four-year extension with Sacramento last October, but the Kings regressed in their first year under head coach Luke Walton, and The Athletic reported in February that Hield, unhappy with his role, might be eyeing a move elsewhere.

It doesn't sound like Hield's concerns about his role have changed much since then. If he's unhappy, he could theoretically ask for a trade - or Sacramento could pre-emptively try to get something for the still-young shooter.

I examined the potential fit back in April, including the hypothetical Hield-for-Horford deal from that fateful Instagram post:

In terms of contract length and salary hit, the Hield and Horford deals are strikingly similar, and Hield's game would be an instant improvement for the Sixers' offensive spacing: he's a two-guard who shoots a career 41.1 percent from deep, and can create his own shot. Plus, he's substantially younger than Horford.

Will the move happen? If the Kings deem their relationship with Hield unfixable, it's possible. Horford hasn't fit well in Philly, but he's still a savvy veteran with a good track record. And Hield would certainly check the boxes for the Sixers' front office.

Hield shot 39% from deep this year on 9.5 (!) three-point attempts per game, is a career 41% three-point shooter over 315 games, and would be a perfect match for the Sixers. 

We'll see.

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