The Sixers split their first two games after the All-Star break, a win over the Heat on Thursday and a loss Saturday to the Blazers. And, as usual, there was a significant story off the court to supplement the action on it — the team announced Wednesday that Joel Embiid would be sidelined at least a week with left knee soreness.
Here are our weekly observations:
• The handling of Embiid’s injury was curious. Yes, Brett Brown said Embiid had been dealing with knee soreness for a few weeks and playing in the All-Star Game did not impact the injury (see story). If one of the ways the Sixers are treating the injury is “load management,” though, then the logical assumption to make is sitting out the All-Star Game would have benefited Embiid. You’d think resting for the Sixers’ final game before the All-Star break might have made sense, too — the Sixers likely wouldn’t have needed Embiid to beat the Knicks.
To be fair to the Sixers, Embiid has never been the type of personality who easily submits when the subject of load management is raised. He’s a competitor who wants to play as much as he can. That the Sixers were able to convince him to sit, despite an MRI showing no structural damage, is best for all parties involved. Embiid can get healthier, and Brown can have a more springy, dominant “crown jewel” of his team in the playoffs. It’s just that, especially given the Sixers’ lengthy recent history with injuries, the manner in which that decision was arrived at and presented to the public was odd.
• Boban Marjanovic, the man even larger than Embiid who has temporarily taken his spot in the starting lineup, was tremendous in the Sixers’ win over the Heat on Thursday, matching his season-highs of 19 points and 12 rebounds. He showed off his touch around the rim and his underrated ability as a passer (see story).
He was in a good mood after playing a season-high 27 minutes.
“My mind feels good, so my body must feel good,” he said Friday.
Though his four-point, five-rebound effort in 19 minutes against the Blazers was a return to earth, it wasn’t startling by any means. Anybody who has watched Marjanovic can recognize his struggles defending when drawn away from the rim.
Brown likes the idea of having two massive rim protectors on the floor for 48 minutes every night in Embiid and Marjanovic, but that might not be feasible in the playoffs. Still, you can understand why he wants to give Marjanovic a chance to earn the job as Embiid’s exclusive backup. In theory, his overwhelming size advantage and often-overshadowed skills can mitigate his obvious weaknesses. Whether Brown, in practice, can maximize Marjanovic's talents and afford to keep him on the floor in the postseason is a fascinating, important storyline.
• If you’re a Blazers fan who doesn’t watch the rest of the NBA, you must not think the Sixers are very good.
Portland has 43 more rebounds than the Sixers in their two matchups this season. And JJ Redick has shot 4 for 21. His 1 for 10 shooting performance Saturday was his worst, percentage-wise, since Feb. 2, 2015, when he went 0 for 1 and played just four minutes for the Clippers against the Nets because of back spasms.
• After falling Saturday night to the now-16-44 Bulls, the Celtics are a game behind the Sixers for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen combined for 79 points. Brad Stevens told reporters he thinks he needs to do a better job. Marcus Smart questioned his team’s will to win.
None of these facts are meant to rub salt in the Celtics’ wound, but to serve as a reminder that good teams suffer bad losses. Saturday afternoon’s performance falls in that category for the Sixers, but it’s far from a catastrophic defeat unless things snowball.
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