76ers

Sixers vs. Clippers: 3 storylines to watch

Sixers vs. Clippers: 3 storylines to watch

Hey, a basketball game!

The Sixers (33-21) can put the drama aside for one night as they host one of the best in the West in the Clippers (37-16) Tuesday night.

Both teams come into the matchup relatively healthy with the exception of L.A. guard Patrick Beverley, who’s out with a sore right groin. 

It will be the first time Kawhi Leonard is in the Wells Fargo Center since he hit the quadruple doink in Toronto that ended the Sixers' playoff run. Look for Leonard and Ben Simmons to be locked up throughout the night.

Here are three storylines to watch:

Will being a ‘good a--hole’ lead to dominant play?

Joel Embiid has had Sixers fans on an emotional roller coaster over the past 48 hours.

From shushing the crowd to weird social media posts, Embiid’s trolling game is on another level right now. It probably shouldn’t surprise us after the comments he made postgame Sunday.

I mean, I don’t care how it looks. I’m just playing basketball. Just getting back to myself, just being a good a--hole. Just playing basketball and just trying to dominate.

So, will Embiid being a “good a—hole” lead to the All-Star center playing at top form against the Clippers? It would sure go a long way in ending all the silliness that has gone on off the court.

Burks to make his debut

Often when players are traded, people forget about the human element involved. Alec Burks was enjoying a career year and fitting in well with the Warriors before finding out on the team plane he'd been traded early Thursday morning.

He had to get his wife and young daughter settled on the other side of the country and caught a red-eye flight that landed early Sunday morning. When he arrived, he was put through medical exams all day. He was in no shape to play an NBA game.

On Tuesday, Burks is expected to make his Sixers debut and be a part of the rotation. Burks’ skillset is perfect for the Sixers. He should be able to provide them shot creation and bench scoring — two things they’ve sorely lacked at times this season.

In his only game against the Clippers this season, Burks had a tough outing, going just 3 of 17. He did have eight rebounds and five assists. Burks can be a streaky player, but when he’s on, he’ll add a strong scoring punch off the Sixers’ bench.

A change to the starting lineup?

It’s no secret that Al Horford’s fit in the starting lineup has been clunky. Much has been made about Horford’s playing next to Embiid, but with the way this team is constructed, Tobias Harris may also be better suited to play the four.

Brett Brown hasn’t shied away from addressing Horford’s struggles. When asked about the possibility of making a change to the starting lineup Friday, Brown said everything was “on the table.”

He was even more forthcoming at practice Monday when asked about matching up against the Clippers:

I think my immediate answer would be is I would suspect so because it's an unlikely sort of group that you have to match up with, initially right from the get go with this at the start of the game. How we do that, how we start the game, how we match up, we'll discuss more tomorrow. But your question is fair. There's a lot of mobile wings, more than a lot of top heavy bigs.

Ivica Zubac is the only true center that plays for Glenn Rivers’ team. The Clippers often use All-Star wing Paul George at the four and the 6-foot-7 Montrezl Harrell as a five.

Rookie Matisse Thybulle or newcomer Glenn Robinson III would be prime candidates as Brown will likely look to keep Burks and Furkan Korkmaz in roles off the bench.

Stay tuned.

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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

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 is questionable (tendon strain in left foot) and Aaron Gordon is doubtful (left hamstring strain). 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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