Josh Richardson will miss time with left hamstring injury

Josh Richardson will miss time with left hamstring injury

As the Sixers enter a tough part of their schedule ahead of the All-Star break, it appears they’ll now be down two starters for the bulk of it.

Josh Richardson on Thursday was diagnosed with a slight strain of his left hamstring, a team source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. He’ll be reevaluated in approximately two weeks. Shams Charania of the Athletic and Stadium Sports was the first to report the news.

Richardson sustained the injury just four minutes into Wednesday night’s loss in Toronto. He missed six games earlier this season with right hamstring tightness.

The 26-year-old has been an important piece for the Sixers. He’s fourth on the team in scoring (15.4 points) and third in assists (3.5). His ability to handle the ball, create off the dribble and navigate the pick-and-roll has helped the team’s offense. It’s allowed Ben Simmons to play less like a traditional point guard and utilize his strengths as a screener and roller.

In Richardson’s absence Wednesday, Brett Brown turned to little-used Shake Milton. The second-year guard hadn’t played more than 10 minutes since the beatdown the Sixers took in Indiana on New Year’s Eve. Milton’s 23 minutes against the Raptors were the most he’d played since last year’s season finale.

A second-round pick out of SMU in 2018, Milton signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Sixers last season. After showing flashes with his ability to shoot and be the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, GM Elton Brand elected to convert Milton’s contract into a full NBA deal. 

Though he hasn’t shown it consistently at the NBA level, his outside shooting was part of the reason Brett Brown went to him when Richardson went down.

“The J-Rich thing hurt,” Brown told reporters postgame in Toronto. “[The Raptors are] physical all over the place, they scramble, and so we thought that our best opportunity to steal a win on the road without [Joel Embiid] and J-Rich was going to be to hunt some threes and spread the thing around and play fast and share the ball. ... I give Toronto credit for really amping up their defense. But Shake was a part of that environment that I just said and I thought played really quite well.”

Though the numbers won’t bear it out (3 of 10, 3 of 6 from three), Milton did well considering the circumstances. His teammates came away impressed.

“He was great,” Tobias Harris said. “He came in, he was shot-ready. Shake’s a great player, he can score the basketball, shoot the three-ball. If he’s in this moment of getting more playing time, he’ll get more confident and be able to continue to bring what he did tonight.”

The Sixers are already missing Joel Embiid as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn ligament in the ring finger of his left hand. 

The team has preached the “next man up” mentality recently. With Embiid and Richardson both out, they’ll need multiple men to step up, especially given the upcoming schedule.

Here are the nine games before the All-Star break:

Saturday – vs. Lakers
Jan. 28 – vs. Warriors
Jan. 30 – at Atlanta
Feb. 1 – at Boston
Feb. 3 – at Miami
Feb. 6 – at Milwaukee
Feb. 7 – vs. Grizzlies
Feb. 9 – Chicago
Feb. 11 – at Clippers

Reinforcements could be on the way from outside the organization with the Feb. 6 trade deadline looming.

But that’s a daunting stretch at full strength. Without Embiid and Richardson, the Sixers’ depth and mettle will be tested.

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Villanova's Jay Wright reportedly linked to New York Knicks head coaching job

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Villanova's Jay Wright reportedly linked to New York Knicks head coaching job

In the midst of another successful season at Villanova, Jay Wright’s name is yet again surfacing in connection with NBA jobs.

Wright has been linked — again — to the vacant New York Knicks job, per Adam Zagoria for Forbes.com.

The idea of Wright to the Knicks is not new. After New York fired former Sixer Jeff Hornacek in 2018, the Knicks were interested in interviewing Wright, but the Wildcats head coach turned them down. He was also reportedly on the Phoenix Suns’ radar four years ago. Way back in 2009, he spoke with the Sixers about the job that eventually went to Doug Collins.

The interest from NBA teams likely won’t go away any time soon for Wright. He’s won two national championships and his current team is ranked No. 15 in the country. He’s likely destined for the Basketball Hall of Fame and seems to have the personality and demeanor to coach at the next level.

Up until now though, Wright has been inclined to stay at Villanova.

“I’m staying. I love it here,” Jay Wright said to The Athletic in 2018. “I love what we’re doing. I’m just really happy. I said when I was at Hofstra and I didn’t take other jobs, I used that old Jim Valvano line, ‘Don’t mess with happy.’ That seemed appropriate at Hofstra until this job opened. It’s still really appropriate. I’m very happy here. I don’t need another challenge. I like happy better than a new challenge.

“The NBA does intrigue me. That challenge is appealing, but it’s not worth giving up working with these guys.”

Wright recently put his home in Berwyn up for sale, but his broker said that Wright and his wife Patricia are looking to downsize with their kids getting older. It could just be a coincidence, but the timing is a little peculiar.

It does seem like Wright is open to the possibility of coaching in the NBA if the ideal opportunity presented itself.

The Knicks have cleaned house, firing head coach David Fizdale and team president Steve Mills. They’re still owned by the mercurial James Dolan and have an oddly constructed roster. 

Is that the type of job Wright would give up his comfortable position at Villanova for? Does what John Beilein is encountering in Cleveland give him pause? Could the Bucks County native hold out to see if the Sixers’ job becomes available if Brett Brown fails to get the team past the second round again?

There will be NBA jobs out there — if Wright ever wants one.

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Sixers could — and should — be dangerous down the stretch

Sixers could — and should — be dangerous down the stretch

During his time as the Sixers head coach, Brett Brown has always broken the season into thirds. The first two thirds have not gone as the team would’ve hoped. The Sixers sit at 34-21 and are currently the East’s fifth seed.

The good news is they look poised to go on a run in the final 27 games of the season.

Let’s start where everything starts with the Sixers: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. We can debate fit and clashing skill sets all we want. The bottom line is the Sixers need the All-Star duo to be peaking down the stretch and into the playoffs. 

Their win over the Clippers before the All-Star break represents exactly the type of performances needed. What was most impressive is that neither player sacrificed their aggressiveness to accommodate the other. Embiid took 17 shots — but also got 13 free throws — while Simmons took a season-high 22 attempts.

While he's played at an elite level the last 20 games, Simmons' last 11 may represent the best stretch of his career. The 23-year-old has averaged 12.5 field goal attempts in that span. When he takes at least 13 attempts from the field this season, the Sixers are 17-5. While the jumper may not be there, his improved shot is visible from the line, where he’s hit 73.9 percent on 8.4 attempts during that stretch.

There’s no denying Embiid and Simmons’ importance, but having all of your top-five players is also pretty darn important. The Sixers have only had Embiid, Simmons, Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson and Al Horford together for 21 of 55 games. That’s just 38.1 percent.

The Sixers are a respectable 9-7 when Embiid hasn’t played this season, but it’s clear they need all five of these players. 

While the Sixers are 9-5 in the games Richardson has missed, you could see the impact he had against the Clippers, pouring in 17 fourth-quarter points. You can’t expect that kind of output every night, but his ability as a two-way player is crucial to the Sixers.

Embiid should be splint free — he wasn't wearing one during the All-Star Game Sunday — for the first time since returning from the torn ligament in the ring finger on his left hand. Richardson looked explosive after missing time with multiple hamstring injuries. Simmons and Harris are two of the most durable players in the NBA.

As for Horford, it appears his run as a starter is over. That doesn’t mean he can’t make an impact. The decision could prove to be a “win-win” as Horford will fit better offensively with lineups that don’t feature Embiid. Brown will likely still use Horford to close games, which makes sense. The Sixers’ original starting lineup is tied for second in the NBA in terms of defensive rating among five-man lineups that have played at least 200 minutes.

One of their newcomers would be a nice fit in place of Horford. Glenn Robinson III could make the team more switchable defensively. Robinson was used in a stopper role in Golden State. That likely won’t be the case here, but his ability to switch one through four makes him a dynamic piece defensively. Robinson is also having a career year as a shooter, hitting 39.5 percent of his threes. 

With Robinson and Alec Burks coming over from the Warriors, Brown suddenly has options. Bringing Horford off your bench as the sixth man while using Burks and Furkan Korkmaz as instant offense and Matisse Thybulle as an impactful defender makes the bench much more dangerous.

While there are plenty of reasons for optimism for the Sixers after the break, the reality is they’ve underperformed. A large part of that has to do with their abysmal 9-19 record on the road. The 18-36 Hornets have more road wins.

If you’re looking for a reason that could change, the Sixers’ strength of schedule could be one. Up to now, they’ve played the third-toughest schedule in the NBA. After the All-Star break, they have the second easiest. In contrast, the Raptors (sixth) and Celtics (seventh) have had lighter schedules that will get more difficult — Toronto has the 11th-toughest, Boston the 12th.

That’s not an excuse. If the Sixers are the team they’ve claimed to be, they need to beat good teams. They also can’t follow up big wins with brutal losses like their lifeless defeat in Orlando two days after a Christmas Day win over the Bucks.

The Sixers have work to do and ground to make up. All of these factors don’t matter if they don’t show consistent focus and stay healthy.

Brown refers to the stretch after the All-Star break as a “sprint.” The Sixers could — and probably should — be ready to go on a run.

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