Sixers Notes: Embiid’s hand OK, Okafor’s DNPs, Simmons’ shot

Sixers Notes: Embiid’s hand OK, Okafor’s DNPs, Simmons’ shot

HOUSTON – Joel Embiid is determined to play through a right-hand contusion and face the Rockets.

He participated in the Sixers’ light practice Sunday, the day after suffering the injury against the Mavericks. Embiid thinks it occurred either late in the first quarter or early in the second when he tried to go baseline out of a double team. He stayed in the game and x-rays taken Saturday night came back negative.

“I’m feeling good,” Embiid said. “I think I should be ready. I should be playing tomorrow. It’s hurting a little bit but I think I’ll be fine. I’ll push through it.”

Embiid experienced swelling Sunday. The Sixers will have shootaround ahead of Monday’s matchup, where they will get another look at the situation. Embiid is ready to make an early diagnosis of himself.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m playing. I don’t care what they say. I’m playing.”

Embiid posted 21 points, six rebounds and three assists in the Sixers’ buzzer-beater loss Wednesday to the Rockets. He was not involved in the offense down the stretch and, considering how competitive he is, he’s likely looking to avenge that defeat on the Rockets’ home court.

Okafor reacts to DNPs
Jahlil Okafor understands his place on the Sixers, albeit on the bench and out of the rotation. The third-year center has been in communication with Brett Brown, who has opted to play Amir Johnson as the backup center behind Embiid.

“The last time we spoke, he told me that Amir was the backup to Jo,” Okafor said Sunday. “I’m ready to play. We talk often. That’s what it is at the moment. He told me I’m not in the rotation.”

Okafor entered training camp with expectations of a turnaround camp. He had shed significant weight and was no longer dealing with right knee soreness.

The competition for the backup role heated up, though, as the Sixers signed the veteran Johnson to a one-year, $11 million deal this summer and Richaun Holmes had made a strong case for more playing time last season. Holmes has been injured (fractured wrist) but Brown designated the other reserve minutes to Dario Saric. Okafor has appeared in one game. Still, he prepares as if his name could be called.

“I’m just healthy,” Okafor said. “I feel great. I’m ready to play. The coaches know that. My teammates know that as well. I’m just coming in here, working day by day, we’ll see what happens.”

And so Okafor’s future with the Sixers remains unclear, as it was the prior two seasons as well.

“Anything can change,” he said. “It could change in the blink of an eye. But right now, I’m not in the rotation and that’s what it is.”

Okafor re-joined the Sixers on Sunday after staying back at the team hotel Saturday in Dallas because of an upper respiratory infection.

Simmons expanding shot … but how far?
For everyone who wants to see Ben Simmons knock down long-range jumpers, that’s going to have to wait. Yes, the rookie is looking to expand his offensive game, but the Sixers aren’t focusing on that far from the basket.

“[I want to work on] the way I score at certain spots on the floor,” Simmons said Saturday. “Multiple spots — elbows, low block, through the lane, finishing.”

Simmons believes he needs to improve his overall scoring. That coming from the rookie who is averaging 17.5 points and recorded a triple-double in his fourth NBA game. Still, Simmons has been doing his most offensive damage in the paint.

Of his 84 field goal attempts, 47 have been taken from less than five feet from the basket, according to NBA.com. Simmons is shooting 65.9 percent in the restricted area (29 for 44) and 40.0 percent in the non-restricted area of the paint (12 for 30). He has been highly efficient attacking the basket with his speed and physicality.

Getting further out, though, Simmons is just 2 for 7 from mid-range and has not attempted a three. So when Simmons and the Sixers eye areas of improvement, they’re not talking about transforming into a younger version of JJ Redick — not yet, at least.

The team has specific objectives for his rookie season. They start in two areas, the basket and the line, where Simmons is shooting 59.4 percent.

“Maybe next year or at the end of this year, we’re going to start seeing, I think, some catch-shot threes and really expanding it. But that will not define him,” Brown said. “My mind for him completely in his first season is finishing at the rim and trying to get to that 70-percent mark as a free throw shooter.”

Scenes from the road
Redick, Jerryd Bayless and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot were the last three on the court following Sunday's light practice at the Toyota Center. It is a good example for a younger player like Luwawu-Cabarrot see veterans putting in extra work. (Redick's status for Monday has not been announced. He missed Saturday's game with lower back tightness.)

Sixers' imposing defense doesn't look afraid to cross 'the fine line'

Sixers' imposing defense doesn't look afraid to cross 'the fine line'

Tobias Harris had to cut himself off.

“We want to be one of the best — we want to be the best defensive team in the NBA,” he said. 

After the Sixers’ 107-93 win over the Celtics Wednesday night in their season opener (see observations), one can understand why Harris felt the need to amend his statement.

The Sixers held Boston to 36.7 percent shooting from the floor, which would have been Boston’s worst shooting performance of the 2018-19 season. They limited Kemba Walker, who’d scored a career-high 60 points on them last year, to 12 points on 4 for 18 shooting.

Josh Richardson slithered around, through and over screens in pursuit of Walker. Rookie Matisse Thybulle took gamble after gamble, knowing what he termed as “the fine line” between intelligent risk and overextension could lean much closer to unencumbered aggression with big men like Joel Embiid and Al Horford waiting behind him. 

“It was intimidating at first,” Thybulle said of guarding Walker, noting he’s played as the three-time All-Star before in NBA 2K.

He made the transition from video game to reality well defensively, recording two steals and two blocks in his NBA debut.

Embiid during training camp compared Thybulle to Robert Covington, a First Team All-Defensive selection in 2017-18 and a starter for the Sixers on opening night last year against Boston.

Harris went further in his praise of Thybulle’s defense. 

“I have not seen a rookie come in with his defensive skills,” he said. “The only guy I would say is like Kawhi [Leonard] as a rookie — everybody knew he was a top defender.”

In Richardson, Horford and Thybulle, the Sixers have added three strong defensive players. And, for all his offensive value, they’ve subtracted a player opponents would often pick on in JJ Redick. 

Unlike last season, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward didn’t have a clear matchup to post up or isolate. Boston looked for advantages where they might reasonably exist, targeting Horford against perimeter players and putting pressure on Furkan Korkmaz, but it didn’t have much success. Just about everything the Celtics did on offense was effortful.

“We just tried to make it tough on them, every trip down,” Ben Simmons said. “They have a lot of talented guys, but we just tried to make sure they had tough shots. I think everybody did a solid job of that. Matisse made a lot of great plays on Kemba and he was great out there for his first game.”

The Sixers’ defensive performance was not flawless. They committed 34 fouls, more than in any regular-season game last year. Thybulle had five, including one in the second quarter when Walker got a step ahead of him and leaned back to create contact, finishing with an and-one. 

Those blemishes didn’t seem to bother Brett Brown.

“I’d rather water something down than demand it and keep harping on it,” he said. “If my problem is we’re playing that hard and we’re fouling too much, then I’ll take that on opening night. Inevitably, you can’t just whack people, stop the clock and we’ll send them to the line, and we did that way too much. I thought our feet were good, I thought our hands were poor, and it’s a good problem, I think, to have.”

Ime Udoka, the team’s new de facto defensive coordinator, said a month ago that he wants the Sixers to “make them feel you” and play a physical, attacking, flexible style. The variations in pick-and-roll coverage, occasional full-court pressure and different matchup possibilities might look complicated on the surface. At their core, though, those strategies all intend to dictate the way the game is played. 

Thybulle is still in the early stages of figuring out the NBA, but he has an intuitive understanding of that approach.

“Our goal going into the second half was just to impose our will,” he said, “and with our size and speed, athleticism, strength and everything, that was our goal — and we came out and did it.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

You have to see what Joel Embiid sent Bryce Harper

You have to see what Joel Embiid sent Bryce Harper

Philadelphia is truly the city of Brotherly Love, even between the sports teams in this city.

It turns out, even the superstar athletes in this city support one another and, from the looks of it, their kids. Even from many miles away, in Las Vegas.  

According to Bryce Harper’s Instagram story, he was sent some cool Process gear by none other than Joel Embiid.  

It seems like Embiid wants to make sure Harper and his whole family are rocking the right team this season. Harper’s post on social media includes a Sixers jersey, a Process hat and long sleeve, among baby clothes for future prodigy of Philadelphia, Krew.  

Nothing like instilling the Philadelphia fandom from a young age. Here’s what Harper posted below.  

You just love to see it.  

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers