76ers

Sixers at Celtics: 3 storylines to watch and how to follow the game

Sixers at Celtics: 3 storylines to watch and how to follow the game

Updated: 7:12 p.m.

The Sixers (18-7) will be in Boston Thursday night to take on the Celtics (17-6) at TD Garden.

This would've been Al Horford’s first appearance in Boston as a Sixer, but he's now listed as out. The veteran big, who opted out of his player option with the Celtics to join the Sixers this offseason, is dealing with left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness and just popped up on the injury report earlier today. Mike Scott will start in his place.

Boston is coming off a tough loss in Indiana last night. It was also a rough night for Boston in the injury department. Gordon Hayward, who just returned to the lineup after missing 13 games with a broken hand, was forced to leave the game after taking a shot to the nose. He's listed as probable. Marcus Smart (eye infection) and Robert Williams (hip) will both miss their third straight game.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 8 p.m. ET 
Where: TD Garden
Broadcast: TNT
Live stats: Follow here 

And here are three storylines to watch:

Big Al returns to Boston

Even though Horford won't play, the reception he receives should be interesting. When he signed his big free-agent deal with the Celtics back in 2016, it was a move that helped the revitalization of the franchise.

Though the fan reaction will surely be mixed with Horford returning with a rival, the Celtics’ players will be happy to see him again.

“He should be celebrated,” Jaylen Brown said to NBC Sports Boston. “Boston fans, they're gonna do what they want, right? Al came here, contributed, took this team the farthest it’s been since ‘08 [NBA champions]. Al served his time well here."

Brown added, “For me, he was a great leader, a great person … I know I’ll clap for him when they call his name. That’s just me.”

Just 23 games in a Sixers uniform and Horford has already had a similar impact on the players here.

“He’s just a real role model, in terms of how he lives his life,” Tobias Harris said to our Serena Winters. “There’s no real ups and downs with him. In my opinion, he’s the definition of a consistent person — comes in everyday, same attitude, same spirit, win or loss. The way he shapes his day-to-day life is inspiring for real.”

Embiid hears the criticism … and he agrees

In case you missed it, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal were blunt if their criticism of Joel Embiid after Tuesday night’s win over Denver. They said they felt like the All-Star center wasn’t putting in the effort to be great.

Embiid, who said postgame Tuesday that he wasn’t having as much fun this season, wasn’t offended by the criticism. In fact, he agreed with it.

“That’s what they do," Embiid told reporters. "Maybe they’re right. Maybe. I do think they are right. I do need to be more aggressive. Look to impose myself. Look to dominate. I think the whole season I haven’t done that and you can see the ways it’s affecting my efficiency and my stats. I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominate. I get what they are saying. I think they are right and I gotta make a change.”

Embiid’s scoring numbers are down, but he’s still No. 1 in the NBA in terms of defensive rating for players averaging at least 25 minutes a game.

National TV, facing criticism, going on a tangent about not having fun, up against a rival — this seems like it’s lining up for a big night for the big man. 

J-Rich working off the rust

Josh Richardson was playing his best basketball as a Sixer when tightness in his right hamstring cost him six games. He returned Tuesday, but looked awfully rusty, going just 1 of 8 in under 20 minutes.

Though the Sixers went 5-1 in the games he missed, what the Sixers lost on both sides of the ball with Richardson out was evident. In the six games before his absence, Richardson was averaging 20.2 points while shooting a scalding 55.9 percent from three and 53.1 percent overall.

The skill the Sixers missed most was Richardson’s ability to create off the dribble, especially in the pick-and-roll. Brett Brown hasn’t run a ton of pick-and-roll in the past, but that’s mostly because of personnel. Richardson excels in that action and it’s one that helps the Sixers put other teams in a bind.

Richardson will still likely be on some form of minutes restriction.

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Sixers Talk podcast: Is Ben Simmons an All-Star? A reunion with Robert Covington?

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Is Ben Simmons an All-Star? A reunion with Robert Covington?

On the latest Sixers Talk podcast presented by Wilmington University, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Ben Simmons' recent play since Joel Embiid went out with an injury, how alarming the Al Horford situation is becoming, and a possible reunion with Robert Covington.

• No, Simmons hasn't scored late in games, but he's been attacking the rim and causing opponents to make plenty of business decisions.

• How worried should we be about Horford's up-and-down season?

• Would a RoCo reunion make sense? What would you give up?

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Sixers Injury Update: Al Horford is questionable vs. Nets with left hand sprain

Sixers Injury Update: Al Horford is questionable vs. Nets with left hand sprain

The Sixers might be without their best two center options for Monday afternoon’s game against the Brooklyn Nets.

Al Horford is questionable with a left hand sprain. He sustained the injury with 6:31 left in the third quarter Saturday night vs. the Knicks after being fouled by Reggie Bullock.

"Yeah, I just took a fall there, landed on the hand,” Horford told reporters. “We’ll see where we’re at tomorrow. It’s pretty sore right now, but I’m just glad I was able to stay in the game and give the team whatever I could. … It’s definitely uncomfortable. In this game you always play through injuries and things like that. I just wanted to make sure that I did what I could. We’ll see where I’m at tomorrow, and hopefully good to go for Monday.”

Horford scored a season-low four points vs. the Knicks on 2 for 9 shooting. In the six games since Joel Embiid has been out because of a torn ligament in the ring finger of his left hand, the Sixers have gone 4-2 with Horford as their starting center.

According to multiple reports, Norvel Pelle will be listed as available but his status could change. The team is in a precarious situation with Pelle, who has one NBA day remaining on his two-way contract. The Sixers have opted against converting Pelle to an NBA deal for the time being to prioritize flexibility ahead of the Feb. 6 trade deadline, which has left them in this spot. The 26-year-old rookie has played 13 NBA games and averaged 2.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

On Friday vs. the Bulls, the Sixers decided not to use up one of Pelle’s NBA days, and Kyle O’Quinn played nearly 16 minutes, his first action of 2020.

It looks like Ben Simmons playing some at center could be a possibility. Brett Brown used Simmons as a small-ball five in the first half on Jan. 9 vs. Boston and after the game said, “I suspect you’ll see it again.”

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