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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons has 'no pain,' is optimistic with nerve impingement in lower back

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons has 'no pain,' is optimistic with nerve impingement in lower back

Ben Simmons addressed the media Wednesday for the first time since being diagnosed with nerve impingement in his lower back.

It was an interesting session ahead of the Sixers’ matchup with the Pistons where Simmons pinpointed the moment the injury actually occurred and what he’s been doing in the weeks since to rehab.

The first thing that’s notable is the timeline. Simmons missed the first game after the All-Star break against the Nets on Feb. 20 with lower back soreness. While Simmons did fall awkwardly on a put-back dunk during the All-Star Game, Brett Brown said pregame that the injury happened as Simmons was going up for a rebound at the first practice after the team returned from the break.

According to Simmons, the nerve impingement didn’t actually occur until he was forced to leave the Bucks game on Feb. 22 after being fouled by Brook Lopez in the first quarter. At the time, the team said Simmons had “irritated” his previous injury. Simmons on Wednesday said it was two separate injuries.

“I felt a pinch in my back during the [Milwaukee] game,” Simmons said. “Tried to continue through it for a little bit and obviously knew it was something that was bothering me too much and went back to the locker room. But since then I’ve been feeling great. Just rehabbing.”

When it was revealed that Simmons was diagnosed with nerve impingement in his lower back, the team said he’d be re-evaluated in two weeks. We hit that mark on Tuesday and on Wednesday, the team released a statement that said Simmons would be re-evaluated in three weeks.

On the surface, that news may not have seemed positive, but Simmons is encouraged by his progress and is feeling good.

I have no pain,” Simmons said. “I feel very strong. Everything going on right now, I feel very confident.

Is he feeling more optimistic about things than when the injury first happened?

“Oh, definitely,” Simmons said. “Obviously because I’ve never been in a situation like this or had that feeling — nerve impingement. So to know where I am compared to two weeks ago, I feel much, much better. I am very confident.”

The big question of course is whether Simmons will be ready for the playoffs. The three-week timeline would land on April 1. If Simmons is cleared to play by that date — a big if — that would give him seven regular season games to ready himself for the postseason.

Simmons didn’t want to give any timetables or comment on whether or not he’d be out for the season.

“It’s just something I’m rehabbing now,” Simmons said. “There’s no timeline on it so whenever I’m back, I’m back. Whenever I’m 100 percent, I’m coming back. I’m not here to sit here and just wait. But when I’m healthy, I’ll be playing.”

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How to watch Sixers vs. Magic: Storylines, live stream, game time and more

How to watch Sixers vs. Magic: Storylines, live stream, game time and more

Updated: 11:51 a.m.

We’re waiting for a timeline on how long Ben Simmons, who suffered a left patella subluxation in Wednesday’s game, will be sidelined. Meanwhile, the 41-27 Sixers will play their fourth seeding game on Friday night against the 32-37 Magic.

Here are the essentials: 

When: 6:30 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6 
Where: HP Field House 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

One of the impacts without Simmons 

Before sustaining his injury, Simmons attempted a corner three last game, his first legitimate long-range try since Dec. 7. The Sixers will likely miss his passing to three-point threats far more than his own three-point shooting. 

That said, the team took 35.8 threes per game and made 42.3 percent in its eight games before the hiatus, with Simmons out because of a nerve impingement in his lower back. Through three games at Disney World, the Sixers have taken 28.3 threes per contest (20th of 22nd teams) and converted 40 percent. The offense without Simmons should revolve around Embiid, but firing up more threes than they have so far will also need to be an emphasis. 

We reviewed several other potential ripple effects of Simmons’ injury, including options for the new starting lineup and the expected reliance on Joel Embiid, here

Other key injuries 

Simmons’ injury isn’t the only notable one affecting this game.  

Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac suffered a torn ACL on Sunday. Michael Carter-Williams (tendon strain in left foot) and Aaron Gordon (left hamstring strain) are also out. Center Mo Bamba has only played 11 minutes at Disney World. He told The Athletic’s Josh Robbins that’s because he had COVID-19 in June, which impacted his conditioning. 

For the Sixers, Mike Scott is questionable with right knee soreness and Glenn Robinson III is doubtful with a left hip flexor. Those two have yet to play in the Sixers’ seeding games. 

Former Sixers watch 

In addition to the aforementioned Carter-Williams, former Sixers Nikola Vucevic, James Ennis and Markelle Fultz are members of the Magic. 

An All-Star for the first time last season, Vucevic should have a challenging matchup against Embiid. Ennis, who was traded in February, starts for the Magic and has averaged 7.3 points and 4.2 rebounds for the team in 16 games. Fultz has only missed one game this season, posting 11.9 points, 5.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game, and is 4 for 5 from three-point range after the hiatus.

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Trying to answer initial questions with Ben Simmons' knee injury

Trying to answer initial questions with Ben Simmons' knee injury

Updated: 8:42 p.m.

Ben Simmons is out for the Sixers’ seeding game Friday against the Orlando Magic with a left patella subluxation and there's not currently a timeline for his return as he considers treatment options. That news is clearly significant in the Sixers’ world, and it raises a range of questions. 

Let’s run through some of the bigger ones: 

What exactly is the injury? 

A simpler way to classify the injury is as a partial dislocation of the kneecap. 

How long will Simmons be out?

This is the largest question and still murky. Brett Brown on Thursday said “stuff is still being evaluated” and that he wasn’t in a position to offer a timeline. Presumably, factors such as the state of the ligaments around the knee could play a key role in determining how long Simmons is out. 

Outside of Simmons’ physical status, the team’s approach will be important. There’s no reason to put Simmons back on the court before he’s healthy. 

Shake Milton is hoping for a speedy return.

“It’s tough for us,” he said Thursday. “Ben is an incredible player, an incredible athlete. I don’t know, he’s like a freaking superhuman, so hopefully he’s able to heal super fast and get back on the court, because we definitely need him.”

How will the starting lineup change?

On March 11, the Sixers’ final pre-hiatus game, the team started Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. That’s one possibility. The Horford-Embiid pairing is still the Sixers’ worst regular duo in terms of net rating despite having a plus-15.6 net rating in 40 minutes together at Disney World.

If Brown wants to prepare for a scenario in which Simmons is available and in the postseason starting five, he could keep Horford as the sixth man. He could instead turn to a wing such as Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz or Glenn Robinson III, all of whom have started games for the Sixers this year. Robinson, who has missed the Sixers' first three seeding games with a left hip pointer, is doubtful for Friday's game. 

What about the rotation?

Robinson’s health is a relevant issue with the rotation, which Brown shrunk to nine players when the Sixers played the Wizards. Raul Neto didn’t play against Washington after seeing time in the first two seeding games.

It’s interesting to note that Neto started in Simmons’ place on Nov. 8 and Nov. 10 when the Australian was out with a shoulder injury. The circumstances were very different, however, as Milton was sidelined by a bone bruise and left knee sprain, leaving Neto and Trey Burke as the two main ball handlers on the roster. Trade deadline acquisition Alec Burks now appears ahead of Neto in the backup point guard pecking order, and Simmons’ injury should increase Burks' value a touch. 

As of Wednesday, Brown said his plan was still to have a nine-player rotation for the playoffs. 

What’s the intangible impact? 

When Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back on Feb. 22, Brown recalled him vomiting because of pain. He’s lauded Simmons often for the diligent rehabilitation he did to recover from that injury and be ready to go when play resumed amid a pandemic.

Injuries aren’t anything new to Brown, but he admitted it hurt some to learn about this one after witnessing the process of Simmons’ back rehabilitation. 

“It’s the life that we've lived since I have been in Philadelphia,” he said. “I’m sure every coach has some level of a similar story. This one stings, for sure. We all felt with the pandemic and are we going to play again, it obviously bought time for Ben — had the season kept going, it’s anybody’s best guess. In relation to being incredibly down about it, I’m not. When I think too long about it, probably I can go there.

“But I feel numb to it. I feel conditioned, that we’ve gone through this type of thing before. There is a level of faith that I have in the rest of the team that we can hold the fort until we hopefully get him back. But snakebitten, woe is me, I don’t go there.”

In addition to dealing with the disappointment of a star going down, the Sixers will have to tinker with ingredients like leadership that aren’t necessarily evident to an outsider.

“It’s going to be kind of everyone has to step up by committee,” Richardson said. “I think we have a few guys that can step up as leaders, who can step up and have big games for us. We don’t really like to put too much pressure on one or a few guys. Everybody’s going to step up in his absence.”

Can the Sixers manage without Simmons? 

Again, the lack of a timeline looms large here. We can say without question that the Sixers are 6-5 this season without Simmons and don’t have direct replacements for his elite defense, transition talents, creative passing and more.

It’s also logical that the Sixers will rely on Embiid defensively and feed him frequently in the post. His 34.4 percent usage rate so far in Florida may very well rise. 

“Offensively, he needs to get as many touches as we can get him,” Brown said. “And I think that one of the areas of most noticeable growth … is what he’s been doing passing out of the post. It’s maybe the single thing that stands out most to me offensively when you look at whether it’s Jo, or just us as a team — I like our post spacing.

“I like Jo’s unselfishness quarterbacking the gym. His ability to read where the double teams are coming from I think has been shown.”

Thybulle, Richardson, and perhaps Robinson when healthy could assume challenging defensive assignments that otherwise would have been Simmons’. Players like Harris and Korkmaz will miss Simmons’ ability to drive and set up three-pointers. 

Initially, the Sixers are coming to terms with the situation and hoping the injury doesn’t dent their playoff hopes.

“There’s a lot of moving parts right now and really we're all coming to grips with the news that we’ve received,” Brown said. 

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