Sixers' week ahead: Joel Embiid's possible return, Brett Brown's rotation

Sixers' week ahead: Joel Embiid's possible return, Brett Brown's rotation

The Sixers are entering an interesting and potentially exciting week.

After a two-game road swing in New Orleans and Oklahoma City, they’ll return home Saturday to host the defending world champion Warriors.

Let’s take a look at the storylines heading into the week.

The return of Embiid?

Joel Embiid has missed the Sixers’ last two games with left knee soreness that Brett Brown described as “tendinitis.” After the Sixers beat the Heat on Thursday, his absence was clearly felt in a drubbing by the Blazers. The Sixers are 2-4 without their big man this season.

When the injury was announced, the team said that the All-Star center would be reevaluated in approximately a week. That means Embiid will miss Monday’s matchup against a resurrected Jahlil Okafor, Anthony Davis (maybe?) and the Pelicans, but could return to play his nemesis Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.

Davis didn’t play Saturday in a win over the Lakers as his saga in New Orleans continues. Embiid has owned the matchup against Davis, but without Embiid, Davis will be a near-impossible matchup for Boban Marjanovic. It’ll be interesting to see how Brown handles Davis — if he plays.

The Sixers have not beaten Oklahoma City in forever. Since the Seattle SuperSonics became the Thunder, the Sixers have lost 19 of 20 to them. That win came on Nov. 15, 2008 — a game in which GM Elton Brand logged 27 minutes. 

You could tell it bothered Embiid that it’s been so long after the loss at the Wells Fargo Center back on Jan. 19. Add that to his rivalry with Westbrook and it looks like a matchup he’ll want to be a part of. And he surely wants to be out there against the Warriors on national TV Saturday.

With all that said, nothing is more important than making sure Embiid is ready to roll for the playoffs.

What's up with the rotation?

This seems to be the fan base’s biggest point of contention with Brown. Some of it is fair, but a lot of the criticism is unwarranted.

His decision to put Amir Johnson in the second half of the loss against Portland was mind-boggling. With Marjanovic struggling to defend the pick-and-roll, it made sense to get the hulking big man out of the game. It would’ve made more sense to go with rookie Jonah Bolden.

Sure, Bolden can be undisciplined — a big reason why we didn’t see more of Richaun Holmes when he was here — but Marjanovic and Johnson had no chance on Sunday. Bolden did get overly aggressive on a couple pick-and-rolls, but still seemed like he gave the Sixers the best chance Sunday.

With all that said, there’s not much else Brown can do about his rotation. It’s understandable that the way he staggers his starters' minutes frustrates some fans, but he’s making sure his top guys are playoff ready.

Jimmy Butler is a prime example. As much as Butler loved him, Tom Thibodeau ran Butler into the ground. Butler averaged 37.6 minutes a game in five full seasons under Thibs. He’s averaging just 32.7 as a Sixer. If you don’t think the 29-year-old will feel that difference come postseason, I don’t know what to tell you.

Brown’s rotation is 10-deep right now. He’s said he’d like to cut it to nine for the playoffs. There could be certain nights when the number goes down to eight, depending on the game and the matchup.

It’ll be fair to question Brown’s rotation once there’s more at stake. For now, it’s just a way to kill time over the next 22 games.

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More on the Sixers

Marc Jackson tearfully remembers his friend Kobe Bryant

Marc Jackson tearfully remembers his friend Kobe Bryant

NBC Sports Philadelphia's Marc Jackson knew Kobe Bryant during his early days in Philadelphia, when the two were working toward their grand NBA dreams.

On Sunday evening, after the sudden, tragic death of Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash (see story), Jackson discussed how he learned of Bryant's passing, and recounted some of his fondest memories from his time training with Bryant when they were kids.

"It's just a shame. It's a bad day. It's a very horrible day, not just in sports but in life," Jackson said. "Because this guy — this guy, from the very first moment I met him. He's a day off the plane from Italy, and we're working out with John Arnett, he was 12 at the time. I was 15, 16. We're working out at Temple, he's this 12-year-old lanky kid. We finished working out, it must've been about two, three hours, and afterwards he got ice on his knees. I said, 'What are you doing, getting ice on your knees?' He's like, 'I'm trying to have a long career.' He was 12 and I was 15, and I remember looking at him and laughing, like, 'That's interesting.' 

"And I'll never forget the time when he was getting ready to make a decision about whether he was going to college or the NBA. We were working out of Temple. He had this thing called 'Crown,' where he was trying to dunk on you, and he'd say he was going to 'Crown' you. That stuff just started going through my head.

"Now I'm just thinking about his wife and his children, and I'm thinking about his mother Pam, and I'm thinking about Coach Joe, who was one of my first coaches when I first started playing the game. I'm looking at that and thinking about that, and then I just have 1,100 emails, texts, and phone calls, in a matter of hours. It's just to say, he's a very important person."

You can listen to Jackson talk more about Bryant in the video above.

Remembering Kobe Bryant's final game in Philadelphia

Remembering Kobe Bryant's final game in Philadelphia

Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine who died Sunday in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California (see story).

For Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star, his final game in Philadelphia was a meaningful moment in his basketball career. He was born in the city and went to Lower Merion High School in Ardmore.

“I wasn’t expecting that type of reaction, the ovation,” he said after the Lakers’ game against the Sixers on Dec. 1, 2015. “It was emotional. I’m deeply appreciative beyond belief. It was really, really special.”

You can watch the video above for a look back at Bryant’s last game in Philadelphia.