Joel Embiid wants us all to stop worrying about injuries, Zhaire Smith is back on the court and the Sixers beat the Pelicans and Thunder and lost to the Warriors this week. They sit at 40-23, a half-game behind the Pacers for the third seed in the Eastern Conference (see standings).
Here are our weekly observations:
• Some of Brett Brown’s late-game decisions this week are open to scrutiny, but the unnecessarily complicated ending against the Pelicans and the loss to the Warriors fall mainly on his players.
Against the Pelicans, the Sixers’ late lead dwindling to one was more a product of his players missing open shots and failing to convert free throws that could have iced the game than anything Brown did as a coach. The decision to blitz Jrue Holiday on the pick-and-roll up three points struck me as a little odd — it felt like a defensive risk the Sixers didn’t need to take in that situation — but you can at least understand the strategy of wanting to get the ball out of Holiday’s hands with a chance to tie the game.
Saturday night, Brown's choice to have Ben Simmons intentionally miss from the foul line with 10.3 seconds left and the Sixers down two drew plenty of questions after the game. Brown’s explanation was reasonable — facing Golden State, and with no timeouts left, it was close to an automatic decision (see story).
You usually don’t see intentional misses with that much time remaining in a game, but Brown’s logic is sound. One other factor to consider is that there was, quite literally, a 50-50 chance that Simmons would even make the free throw to cut the deficit to one — he’s made exactly half his foul shots in the fourth quarter this season.
• JJ Redick’s slump is encroaching on concerning territory for the Sixers. Redick has made just 25 percent of his field goals and three-point attempts since the All-Star break. He’d gone 64 straight games scoring in double figures until the Sixers’ loss to the Blazers last Saturday. Then he turned in another single-digit scoring effort vs. Golden State, with six points on 2 for 9 shooting.
Redick is too good a shooter to miss this many open jumpers for eternity. That said, Redick’s struggles should force the Sixers to consider how much they’d be able to tolerate a similar slump from him in the postseason. Given his deficiencies as a defender, Redick is going to be a net negative for the Sixers unless he’s hitting shots.
To be fair to Redick, his screening and off-ball movement are vital to the Sixers’ offense. But that might not be enough to justify keeping him on the floor nearly as much as the team’s other starters in the playoffs if he’s in a rough shooting patch.
• From a human standpoint, it was very encouraging to hear that Boban Marjanovic suffered a bone bruise and mild sprain of his right knee in New Orleans, not something much worse — watching him have to be helped off the court, grimacing in pain, the injury seemed dire.
From a basketball standpoint, his absence — along with Embiid’s stint on the sidelines in the name of “long-term preservation” — have created an opening for Jonah Bolden. It’s difficult to imagine Marjanovic being able to hold his own vs. the Warriors’ smaller lineups the way Bolden did.
Brown acknowledged Saturday that Bolden — a confident rookie with his own distinct style — has impressed him recently.
He earned a greater level of consideration from me. It always stands out a lot more when you can make some shots, make some threes, it always stands out more. We've seen the other stuff. I think the discipline of playing pick-and-roll defense, he's getting better at. There's also a physicality that's greater than you would think by looking at his build. I think he helped himself tonight.
The choice to relegate Bolden from the rotation after the Sixers’ pre-deadline trades was harsh. If there’s a silver lining to Embiid and Marjanovic’s injuries, it’s that Bolden has again been able to show he can be a valuable piece.
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