76ers

Sixers weekly observations: Curious handling of Joel Embiid’s injury, getting the best out of Boban Marjanovic, more

Sixers weekly observations: Curious handling of Joel Embiid’s injury, getting the best out of Boban Marjanovic, more

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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Who will be Sixers' backup point guard in 2019-20 season?

Who will be Sixers' backup point guard in 2019-20 season?

With training camp getting closer, there are plenty of topics to discuss involving the 2019-20 Sixers. Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick.

In this edition, we ask: Who will be the Sixers' backup point guard this season?

Hudrick 

This a tough call and should be a legitimate competition.

I like Trey Burke’s game and his ability to get his own shot. It’s a strong NBA skill and not one many of the other Sixers have. He also doesn’t turn the ball over — he’s averaged less than a turnover a game in 17.3 minutes a game the last three seasons combined. He also shot 37.4 percent from three during that span, meaning he could also play next to Ben Simmons. If it were me, Burke would get the first crack at the role.

But Raul Neto seems like the more likely candidate to get backup point guard duties. Neto is a pure floor general who will bring a calming influence that should delight Brett Brown. He started playing professionally overseas when he was 16 and has 20 games of playoff experience under his belt. Neto’s only issue the past couple seasons has been durability, but when healthy, he’s a decent offensive playmaker and shooter (37.7 percent for his career from three).

It should be nice for Brown to have options for once. I still like Shake Milton’s game and would like to see him get a little time as the backup point this season — despite a tough summer league experience. I could also see Josh Richardson getting a few minutes as the team’s primary ball handler. He had the most ball-dominant season of his NBA career last season and averaged 4.1 assists.

Whichever player gets the role will also be aided by Al Horford, an outstanding passer for a big man (4.6 assists per game the last three seasons) who can run some point forward.

Levick 

This is an interesting sequel to the Jazz’s starting point guard competition in 2015-16, when Neto won the job over Burke. I expect that to happen again, but for Burke to still be in the mix and even preferred over Neto in some matchups. Here’s my thinking:

Neto was signed before Burke and his contract is fully guaranteed, whereas Burke’s deal is partially guaranteed, according to reports. Those details don’t indicate the spot is automatically Neto’s, but they do suggest the competition might be slightly tipped in his favor to start.

Burke is a positive in several areas offensively. He’s excellent in the pick-and-roll, has a good assist-to-turnover ratio (3.6 assists to 1.3 turnover for his career) and can create offense out of nothing. Defensively, he’s poor, to the extent that you’d be worried whether he can be picked on in a playoff setting. The 6-foot-1 guard has a defensive box plus-minus of minus-3 or lower each of the last three seasons.

Neto isn’t great defensively, but you figure Brett Brown would be inclined to trust him over Burke. He doesn’t have Burke’s “I’ll get you a bucket” sort of game, but the Brazilian can also put pressure on a defense. In just 12.8 minutes per game last year, he averaged 7.1 drives, shooting 51.9 percent on those possessions.

It’s a luxury to have someone like Burke who can explode for 42 points in a game or go on a solo scoring run, and he could become a necessity if Neto deals with injuries, as he has the last three seasons. Even in the event both are healthy, if the Sixers are struggling to score from the perimeter and/or facing a small point guard who’s a weak defender, Burke might be the guy.

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Uh Oh: Stephen A. Smith is predicting HUGE things for Sixers this season

Uh Oh: Stephen A. Smith is predicting HUGE things for Sixers this season

Stephen A. Smith's track record of predicting things is suspect to say the least.

So it's with great trepidation that Philadelphia 76ers fans should watch the below clip in which he predicts an NBA Finals appearance for Brett Brown's club this coming season.

Smith made the prediction on ESPN's First Take on Friday morning while sitting alongside NBA legend Magic Johnson (the joke about tampering with Giannis may have been the highlight of the segment).

"The Philadelphia 76ers are going to the NBA Finals," Smith declares. "I'm going to defer to my man Jalen Rose when he points out that Boston arguably has the best perimeter shooting team. We can't ignore that. Toronto lost Kawhi, ain't nothing to discuss. The Greek Freak, as phenomenal as he is, the combo of not having a reliable perimeter shot combined with Malcolm Brogdon being in Indiana..."

"My attitude is, I don't like the fact that Philly lost JJ Redick, that's a big loss to me," Smith continues. "The fact that Boston no longer has Al Horford and the Sixers do, not only somebody to pair with Embiid but to spell him whenever he's out. I'm going to believe Ben Simmons has been working on his shot. I'm going to believe Tobias Harris doesn't have to worry about co-existing with Jimmy Butler and that's a plus. I'm going to believe Josh Richardson can play at both ends of the floor..."

"I'm a little suspect on their bench, but I think the Sixers are going to be playing in June."

On the bright side for Philly fans, it's not like Smith is making some bold proclamation here. FiveThirtyEight's prediction model actually gives the Sixers the best chances of making the Finals of any team in the NBA given the East's weaker make up than the West. In fact, they give the Sixers almost twice as good a chance of doing so than the next closest Eastern contender the Bucks (54% vs. 27%).

So Stephen A. isn't going out on a limb, but it never feels great when he picks your squad in anything.

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