76ers

Sixers injury update: 'More explosive' Ben Simmons feeling healthy, stronger with added muscle

Sixers injury update: 'More explosive' Ben Simmons feeling healthy, stronger with added muscle

For months now, we’ve wondered if Ben Simmons would be healthy enough to play if the NBA season resumed. The Sixers for the most part have been consistent with saying the All-Star is healthy.

On a video conference call with reporters Thursday, Simmons put to rest any notion that the nerve impingement in his lower back would still be a problem in Disney World.

“I’m feeling even better than I was when I started the season,” Simmons said. “I’ve been working since I had the injury, working until now to be prepared for whatever happens, wherever we go. So I’m feeling great, been rehabbing this whole time, so I’ve been feeling ready and very comfortable.”

While the NBA stopping play amid the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t an ideal scenario, the silver lining for the Sixers is Simmons’ health. He basically got the equivalent of an offseason to not only rehab his injury, but also get stronger. 

If you follow Simmons on social media, you’ve likely seen images of him in the weight room. That wasn’t just a show. Simmons said he’s added “a lot more muscle” which was his focus during the time off.

Now, his back is fully recovered and he’s ready to go when the league resumes play.

“Overall, just more strength,” Simmons said when asked to put his muscle gain in context. “It’s hard to keep that size on during the season so this was kind of like a resetting point. I was able to get Pilates in almost every day. Lifting weights, taking care of my body and getting back to 100 percent. I’ve just been trying to go overboard with that and being prepared to be down there and play.”

Is he feeling more explosive?

More explosive, definitely, but just more control,” Simmons said. “I feel a lot more control when I’m out there on the floor and knowing what I’m capable of with my body. It just feels very good and overall, I just feel like I’m back to 100 percent. It’s just a good feeling.

Speaking of health, the Sixers are preparing to head down to Florida next Thursday and head into the NBA’s “bubble.” Since Phase 2 of the league’s health protocols began on June 23, 25 of the 351 players that have been tested were positive for COVID-19.

While there is apprehension and uncertainty surrounding the NBA’s return to play, Simmons is putting his trust in the league and players like LeBron James and Chris Paul to lead the way. Though Simmons respects other players' decisions for opting out, as long as his teammates were going, he was “all in.”

As for his role on the court once they get down there, some questions remain.

We’ve seen Brett Brown use Simmons more as a screener and roller this season. The results have been fruitful at times. Brown has said he will look to use Simmons more in that capacity in the playoffs, unlike last season when Simmons was relegated to the dunker spot.

Brown has lauded Simmons’ versatility and his young All-Star is on board for whatever role he’s assigned.

I think I’m the type of player who can be in multiple positions and different spots to help the team,” Simmons said. “I feel like I have a very high IQ on the court and see things a lot differently. I’m able to pass the ball very well, so that’s always a threat. But I love playing in that pick-and-roll, that situation — or pick-and-pop, whatever it is. It just gives us so many different options and it’s tough to guard.

Simmons has played some of the best basketball of his career this season, in part because of Brown being creative in the way he’s used the 6-foot-10 point guard. Unfortunately, that hasn’t translated as much to wins as the Sixers would like. After such lofty expectations to start the season, they find themselves as the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed.

While there may be doubters on the outside, Simmons knows what his team can do at its best.

“We’re not worried about what other people are saying,” Simmons said. “We’ve got to focus on ourselves and get ready to compete. We’ve beaten the best teams in the league so we’re ready to compete. We’re a young, healthy team right now so we’re looking forward to grabbing this opportunity and going all the way. We’re not going to go out there doubting ourselves. We know what we’re capable of.”

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Sixers' Ime Udoka is ‘biggest name to watch’ in Bulls’ head coaching search

Sixers' Ime Udoka is ‘biggest name to watch’ in Bulls’ head coaching search

Sixers assistant coach Ime Udoka is, according to NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh, “the biggest name to watch” in the Bulls’ search for a new head coach.

Chicago fired Jim Boylen on Friday. NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson reports former Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson, Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Mavs assistant Stephen Silas and Bucks assistant Darvin Ham are also expected to be included in Chicago's search. Bulls GM Marc Eversley used to be the Sixers’ vice president of player personnel. 

Udoka joined the Sixers this season after spending seven years as an assistant with the Spurs. In September, he said that he was responsible for game planning and strategizing against “eight or nine” opponents under Gregg Popovich. Brett Brown assigned him to be in charge of the Sixers’ defense, which is rated eighth in the NBA, and he's looked to install more aggressive defensive concepts. He’s a well-respected former player who, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania is also a candidate for the Nets job.

From the Sixers’ perspective, part of what may complicate this situation is Brown’s status. Here’s what Haberstroh wrote on that subject:  

Over the next few weeks, league insiders are keeping an eye on the situation in Philadelphia as the Sixers have underwhelmed for the second straight season. If the short-handed Sixers lose in the first round, Udoka could be in line for a promotion with the Sixers.

“The Sixers may not want another coach to leave their organization. Brown’s top assistant job has been a springboard to head-coaching positions throughout the NBA. Houston’s Mike D’Antoni, Phoenix’s Monty Williams and Atlanta’s Lloyd Pierce’s last stops before their current gigs was the bench in Philly. 

In response to rumors last May that the Sixers’ second-round loss to the Raptors may have put Brown’s job in jeopardy, his players defended him vehemently. The team’s supersized roster has disappointed in this highly unusual, pandemic-affected season, as the presence of Al Horford has boosted the Sixers’ backup center play but generally not helped the team otherwise. Brown’s new-look starting lineup with Shake Milton at point guard and Ben Simmons at power forward only had three games together before Simmons injured his left knee. 

The Sixers’ first-round series against the Celtics begins on Monday night (see series schedule).

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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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