CAMDEN, N.J. — It’s difficult to glean much of value in a basketball sense from a night that was far more about honoring Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and the seven other victims of Sunday’s helicopter crash than about the Sixers’ winning a game.
As far as the Sixers’ 2019-20 season is concerned, though, Joel Embiid returning to play after missing the past nine games because of a torn ligament in the ring finger of his left hand was significant.
Brett Brown said Wednesday that the topic of reintegrating Embiid offensively was “what’s most on my mind.” The Sixers went 6-3 without Embiid, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds vs. the Warriors, though they had a 104.8 offensive rating during that stretch, 28th in the NBA.
“I like our defense,” Brown said. “I like our spirit. This side of it we hope to grow and get it right.”
Brown had pointed out to the court on Jan. 5 and proclaimed, “This is Joel Embiid’s paint.” While it sounds like that overriding principle hasn’t changed, he seems willing to tinker offensively as he works to best accommodate Embiid, Ben Simmons and his entire team. Simmons was excellent in the absence of Embiid, averaging 21.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists.
I mean, how can it not?” Brown said of whether the paint was still Embiid’s. “Does it have to be 100 percent of the time? No. We have so many capable post-up players. Go to the second play of the game … you're going to see Joel I think have D'Angelo [Russell] on him … and Ben had Draymond [Green], and Ben had a duck in and could have got it, and Joel was over on the up wing. And Ben looked at it and relinquished it, and Jo sort of went down, sort of to that Malone line, not a deep post catch.
"So, it's still there, this thing that we're talking about, this spatial thing. … Your question is about the paint. Of course, that's Joel's. That's where his bread is buttered. Last night, I'm bringing him more to an elbow. We can see he's probably easier to go double team at that floor spot. Improving his passing is always on my mind. And so you'll see me bring him up a little bit more to an elbow and play out of that environment as well, but he obviously is our most capable post scorer.
As Brown noted, the Sixers turned to a two-man game Wednesday with Embiid at the elbow and Furkan Korkmaz working around him over and over in the second half. The Sixers have named it “JJ”, Brown said with a smile, for obvious reasons. That action with Embiid and JJ Redick was a staple of the Sixers’ offense over the last two seasons.
Though Brown liked what he saw from that look, he admitted he’s still experimenting offensively.
“We're still playing with stuff and I'm still happy to play with stuff for the next [seven games] before the All-Star break,” he said. “We got Jo back and then at some point you put your hand up and say enough's enough. We got it and we're close.
“If you made me break down how I see the world offensively, I could honestly tell you, ‘I don't like it. We need work. This is on track. This is completely on track. We'll keep it until the playoffs unfold.’ That's how I see it with Joel moving forward as it relates to him coming back in and some of the offensive things we learned from that old group.”
Scott and Horford questionable vs. Hawks
Al Horford (left knee soreness) and Mike Scott (right knee soreness) are questionable for Thursday night’s game in Atlanta.
The Sixers are 4-0 this season without Horford. Scott hasn’t missed a game yet this year.
Embiid had 36 points and 13 rebounds on Oct. 28 in the Sixers’ first game of the season against the Hawks, making the game-winning free throws with 5.3 seconds to go.
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