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-Raptors second-round NBA playoff series starts with Game 1 Saturday

Sixers-Raptors second-round NBA playoff series starts with Game 1 Saturday

We already knew the opponent and now we know when the series will begin.

After dispatching of the Brooklyn Nets in five games, the Sixers will take on the Raptors for Game 1 in Toronto on Saturday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m. or 8 on TNT. 

The Sixers will play at 7:30 p.m. if the Spurs-Nuggets series goes to a Game 7 (Spurs-Nuggets would be at 10). If there's no Game 7 in that Spurs-Nuggets series, the Sixers will play at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Down 3-2, the Spurs host the Nuggets in Game 6 on Thursday night at 8 p.m., so we'll know after that game what time the Sixers' game on Saturday will begin. 

Scotiabank Arena has been a house of horrors for the Sixers. They’ve lost 13 straight there. Their last win came on Nov. 10, 2012, with Lavoy Allen in the starting lineup. Kawhi Leonard has also never lost to the Sixers in his NBA career, going a perfect 13-0. It's fair to note that a lot of that damage was done during The Process and that Toronto has yet to see "Sixers 3.0" this season.

Games 1 and 2 will be at the Scotiabank Arena, before coming to the Wells Fargo Center for Games 3 and 4. Games 5 and 7 would be at Scoatiabank Arena and Game 6 would be at the Wells Fargo Center, if necessary. 

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Raptors have had Sixers' number but not this version

Raptors have had Sixers' number but not this version

There’s having a team’s number and there’s what Kawhi Leonard has done to the Sixers.

In the 13 games he’s played against the Sixers since he entered the league, he’s a spotless 13-0. It’s fair to point out that he played against a lot of awful Sixers teams while playing for a couple outstanding teams.

Before this season, his numbers were fairly modest against them. After joining the Raptors in an offseason trade, he tormented the Sixers this season, averaging 30.3 points in three games.

Toronto, as a team, has given them fits recently. Kyle Lowry and company were not kind to The Process Sixers. Scotiabank Arena has been a house of horrors. The Sixers haven't won there since Nov. 10, 2012, losing 13 straight.

But that was then and this is now.

"Sixers 3.0" moved on to the second round to face the Raptors after a dominant Game 5 performance to end the Nets’ season. The team that was on the floor Tuesday doesn’t resemble the team Toronto faced in four games this season.

The Sixers suffered a deflating loss to the Raptors on Feb. 5. Then in the wee hours of the night, GM Elton Brand struck a deal with the Clippers to acquire Tobias Harris.

They aren’t putting much stock into the matchup’s history.

“We all understand what the math says with our success in Toronto and it’s not flattering. But it’s also not directed to the team that we have,” Brett Brown said. “You can credit or you can discredit it. I’m discrediting it. I think that we have a new group, we have a new opportunity …

“It’s going to be an incredibly tough series. I think that Toronto is as good as there is in the NBA. We will be tested immediately when we get up into Toronto.”

Not only do the Sixers feature a new-look starting five with Harris, they also have a completely different bench. Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott and James Ennis also didn’t play against the Raptors as Sixers. Brown has shrunk his rotation down to eight with those three playing the biggest roles.

Sure, those three players are not likely to swing the series, especially with the depth of Toronto, but they’re still upgrades across the board.

Marjanovic is a tough matchup against any team. He’s incredibly efficient offensively and, though slow footed, did an excellent job challenging shots at the rim against the Nets. As for Scott and Ennis, they bring a toughness and represent an upgrade defensively over anyone the Raptors saw off the Sixers’ bench this season.

But it all begins and ends with the starting five. They outscored Brooklyn 31-2 in the first half Tuesday. Of all the five-man lineups that have played at least 40 minutes together this postseason, the Sixers’ starting unit has the best defensive and net rating.

Brand was candid about his team needing more before the season and he went out and got way more. He wasn't going to sit on his hands after his team was beaten soundly in the second round last season by the Boston Celtics.

Again, that was then, this is now.

“We feel pretty good about what we can do,” Embiid said. “There is definitely a difference from last year. I feel this year’s team is better than last year’s team. Last year we had a great momentum going into the playoffs and then Boston just smacked us, but go into this series it’s different because I’ve seen it. It’s my second time being here. Last year we were kind of, I would say, overconfident, but this year it’s just about respecting everything about the game of basketball and just putting the work in.”

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