76ers

Sixers Injury Update: The latest on Joel Embiid's injury, availability of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III

Sixers Injury Update: The latest on Joel Embiid's injury, availability of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III

Updated: 10:58 a.m.

Joel Embiid will be available to play Sunday night vs. the Bulls after missing the second half of Sunday's game against the Grizzlies because of neck stiffness, per NBC Sports Philadelphia's Serena Winters.

For Chicago, Zach LaVine is questionable with neck spasms. The Bulls have several of their key players out with injuries, including Kris Dunn, Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markannen.  

Al Horford (left Achilles soreness) is questionable for the Sixers.

Also of note is that the Sixers’ two new acquisitions, Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III, are still listed as out. According to Winters, they will undergo physicals Sunday morning to complete the trade process and their status could be upgraded before the game. 

Kyle O’Quinn, who reportedly wants to be waived, will be available after missing the last two games because of personal reasons, a source told Winters.

Norvel Pelle, signed to an NBA deal Friday, is now clearly the team’s third center, a job O’Quinn originally held. The 27-year-old, who said before the Sixers’ win over the Grizzlies that having his contract converted was both a “sigh of a relief” and a “dream come true,” might take on an important role if Embiid and/or Horford are out. 

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Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Sixers (39-27) and Spurs (29-36) will meet Monday over eight months after their first matchup this season, a 115-104 Sixers win on Nov. 22. It’s technically a home game for the Sixers, the team’s first since March 11. They were 29-2 at Wells Fargo Center. 

Mike Scott (right knee soreness) is out and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) is doubtful.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 
Where: Visa Athletic Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

An outlier opener? 

In several ways, Saturday’s defeat to the Pacers wasn’t like most for the Sixers this season.

The team outscored Indiana by a point in nine Joel Embiid-Al Horford minutes but saw their 10-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate when Horford stepped in at center, the opposite of the trend this year. The starting backcourt combined for four points on five field goal attempts. Turnover problems that had characterized seasons past resurfaced as the Sixers gave it away 14 times in the first half and 21 times in the game. They’d been 10th in turnovers (14.2 per game) before the hiatus. Ben Simmons’ defense was not anywhere close to as great as it’s been for much of the season. 

A loss is a loss, but perhaps the Sixers on Monday will look more like the team we saw in their first 65 games. 

Another size disparity 

Jakob Poeltl is the only traditional frontcourt player in San Antonio’s starting lineup, which means the Sixers will again have plenty of size advantages. With LaMarcus Aldridge out for the season after right shoulder surgery, DeMar DeRozan is the Spurs’ second-tallest starter at 6-foot-6. Shake Milton and Josh Richardson are the Sixers’ shortest starters at 6-5. 

The Spurs have opened well at Disney World, winning their first two games and moving into ninth in the Western Conference, but the Sixers will present a unique challenge. 

'Walking that line'

Brett Brown doesn’t generally have an endless level of patience with younger players. He’s sometimes quick to pull the plug when they make mistakes or have trouble adjusting to a new situation.

Following Milton’s poor first game in the new starting lineup (no points, three assists, three turnovers, five fouls), it will be interesting to see Brown’s approach if Milton struggles again early. 

“The tolerance level … whether it’s trying to persevere and grow Shake, whether it’s the distribution of how you actually use Ben Simmons, all of those things are always on my mind,” he said Sunday. “It’s the launching pad that we have now where you’ve got some games before you enter the playoffs. And life moves quickly where you get stuck in this current where you’re going to blink and the playoffs are going to be right at your doorstep. 

“Walking that line of persevering and patience vs. gut feel — you like it or you don’t — that ecosystem is my job.”

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Brett Brown's approach with Al Horford-Joel Embiid minutes, Alec Burks' 'lightning in a bottle' role, more on Sixers

Brett Brown's approach with Al Horford-Joel Embiid minutes, Alec Burks' 'lightning in a bottle' role, more on Sixers

Updated: 5:37 p.m. 

Brett Brown said in May that he hopes to play Joel Embiid approximately 38 minutes per game in the playoffs, a figure he’s since admitted is “probably ambitious” but nevertheless doubled down on. 

The Sixers may have won if Embiid had hit that mark in their first seeding game Saturday night, based on how well he performed and how much the team struggled when he was off the floor. Embiid was plus-21 in 34 minutes and had 41 points and 21 rebounds in the Sixers’ 127-121 loss to the Pacers. A 10-point lead when Embiid exited with 8:38 remaining in the game was a two-point deficit by the time he returned with 5:04 to go.

Al Horford had 10 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes and was a minus-26. In a departure from the norm, the Sixers managed to tread water in the time Embiid and Horford were together (plus-1 in nine minutes) thanks to a combination of fruitful Embiid bully ball and Horford converting a couple of open jumpers in the third quarter. They struggled, however, with Horford at center. Brown employed his original frontcourt this year for stints at the end of the first three quarters, but not at all in the fourth. 

What factored into his decision-making? He explained Sunday that he still considers his usage of the Embiid-Horford pairing to be mostly driven by matchups. It seems he’ll be more inclined to close games with Horford against larger teams that don’t put as great a strain on the 34-year-old’s perimeter defense. Not many teams have lumbering power forwards in the modern NBA, of course, but the Pacers were especially small and quick with All-Star Domantas Sabonis sidelined by plantar fasciitis. 

I just go straight to, ‘Are we going to be able to chase?’” Brown said. “For instance, last night you’re playing against a bunch of track stars. T.J. Warren at that point (of the fourth quarter) had 40 (points) or thereabouts, and it’s, what are you going to do to chase those Holiday brothers and T.J. Warren? To give you a categoric, organic answer of ‘This is Joel and Al Horford’s world,’ I can’t. … It’s who we’re playing, what is the situation? 

“You did see a little bit of Ben (Simmons), Al and Joel, and we still gave Shake (Milton) the ball on not many but some possessions last night. Shake got in foul trouble and things started to happen a little bit differently than was planned. … You’ve gotta go with the situation and make a decision.

‘Lightning in a bottle’ 

Brown had a rather high appraisal of Alec Burks’ work in his 12 minutes against Indiana. Burks did commit four of the Sixers’ 21 turnovers, but he also provided nine points, three fewer than Milton, Josh Richardson, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle and Raul Neto combined. 

“It’s always a defensive thing,” Brown said. “He came in, I thought he played, he looked cocky. He had the ball at times. We ran him as a two off screens. I thought he looked good. And then you get into, you’ve got to stop the Holiday brothers. T.J. Warren. … So Alec, I thought his defense was pretty good. He did have a few turnovers, like a lot of us had, just kind of careless passes to an elbow or trying to go behind-the-back pocket pass out of the pick-and-roll. 

“I feel like Alec had a really good seven or eight days in camp. I thought last night he looked good, he scored, and it’s always on my mind to try to continue to grow his role as it relates to lightning in a bottle, somebody that can come in and just get buckets quickly, especially as it relates to a playoff environment.”

Teammates call Burks “Buckets,” so this is clearly not a foreign role for him. 

Of note in the ever-evolving competition for playoff minutes on the Sixers’ bench: Glenn Robinson III participated in practice but is doubtful for Monday's game vs. the Spurs with the left hip pointer injury that sidelined him Saturday. Mike Scott will miss a second straight game with right knee soreness. 

Pushing the message 

Milton chose not to focus on basketball the day after a challenging night on the court.

He wanted to talk about racial injustice instead. 

I came out here to just say that to anybody who is out here watching me, listening to me, keep fighting and keep putting the word out about what’s going on,” he said. “Don’t let up. The iron right now is hot about what’s going on in this country, the racial injustices that are happening, so keep fighting and keep putting that word out. I just want to say to Breonna Taylor’s family that we are sorry that it has taken so long, and we know (Kentucky attorney general) Daniel Cameron has the power, so we need to keep pushing to keep making his seat hot, for him to make a decision. 

“Also, I want to say rest in peace to Breonna Taylor, rest in peace to Ahmaud Arbery, rest in peace to Kalief Browder, as well. That’s all I have to say.

Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and many other NBA players have also called on Cameron to take action in the case of Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician killed on March 13 in Louisville. 

Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot to death on Feb. 23 in Savannah, Georgia. Browder died by suicide at age 22 after spending three years at Rikers Island in New York for a case that never went to trial. 

The Sixers protested Saturday by kneeling during the national anthem, and Milton said the team is working on further plans. 

“… Hopefully, along with educating people and putting that message out there, we are going to give people tangible things that they can do for action to make change in the communities where they’re at,” he said. 

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