76ers

Sixers weekly observations: Is there any downside to resting Joel Embiid for road trip?

Sixers weekly observations: Is there any downside to resting Joel Embiid for road trip?

Seventy-six games down, six to go.

In our observations this week, we examine the Sixers' move to rest Joel Embiid and highlight a key question facing the Sixers following assistant coach Billy Lange's departure for St. Joe's and Jim O'Brien's return to the front of the bench to take charge of the defense. 

• In my mind, there are a few potential downsides to the Sixers' decision to rest Embiid, none of which hold much weight when examined closer.

1. It could stunt the team’s growth as the playoffs approach
The Sixers’ new starting five has played just 10 games together, and they’ve gone pretty well — they’re 8-2. If Embiid plays the final four games of the regular season (along with the four other starters), they’ll have 14 games of experience together, which certainly isn’t a ton for a team looking to make a Finals run.

Still, it’s unlikely three more games would make much of a difference. As we touched on last week, Brett Brown isn’t a believer in installing new, exotic actions or strategies with the season winding now, so it’s not as if Embiid is going to suddenly have to play catch up as far as Xs and Os are concerned.

2. It could make Embiid sluggish in the playoffs
Embiid has said in the past that he feels he gets out of shape quickly, so this worry is understandable. That said, Embiid had 33 points and 12 rebounds on March 10 vs. Indiana after missing the past eight games —  he’s proven he can be dominant even when not in perfect shape. His knee feeling as good as it can should be a higher priority. 

3. The Sixers should worry about playoff seeding first 
The Sixers are almost certainly going to be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. They have a 4.5-game lead over both the Celtics and Pacers, each of whom have five games left, and they're not going to catch Toronto (see standings). 

With the three seed secure barring a 1964 Phillies-like collapse, there’s plenty of value in a player like Jonah Bolden getting a chance to boost his case for postseason minutes. 

• Though the Sixers’ defense regressed some this year compared to last, when the team had the third-best defensive rating in the NBA, it’s difficult to attribute much of that to Lange’s coaching. He was hampered by a perpetually rotating cast of players, many of whom were below-average defenders — you’ll recall a point when Landry Shamet, Furkan Korkmaz, JJ Redick and T.J. McConnell all had key roles.

With the personnel Lange had, the Sixers were inevitably in trouble when defenders failed to fight through screens and switches were required. Lange may not have minded switching one through four, but he wasn’t instructing his players to allow Joel Embiid to guard point guards (see film review).  

One of the big questions Brown was frank in discussing before the season began was how Embiid would cope in a “five out” environment, when opponents drew him away from the hoop by removing a traditional center from the floor. Against the Bucks, it looks like the answer is having Embiid guard Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

When the Nets used Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at center Thursday with Embiid on the bench, Lange and Brown decided to stick with Boban Marjanovic at center and asked him to take advantage of the matchup offensively. 

Whether that’s a sustainable solution in a postseason series, and whether there are any new strategies O’Brien and Brown might use to counteract a “five out” look in the playoffs will be an important storyline to follow. 

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It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

Updated: Tuesday, 5:09 p.m.

We now have a diagnosis on Ben Simmons' injury. Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and will be re-evaluated in two weeks, a team source confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia (see story). Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news.

Speaking before the Sixers' win Monday night over the Hawks, head coach Brett Brown was unsure how long the injury would sideline Simmons. The 23-year-old sustained the injury at practice Wednesday going up for a rebound, according to Brown, and irritated it in the first quarter of Saturday night’s game against the Bucks.

“I don’t know,” Brown said. “And it really is like how long is a piece of string — who knows? Who knows? … Whatever the time equals on days, games, period of time, we can talk more honestly as this thing shakes out.”

However, it sounded as if Brown was preparing for his two-time All-Star point guard to be out for a while. He framed the situation as one the Sixers can cope with if other players take advantage of the chance to play expanded roles.

There’s 25 games left. … It’s an eternity,” he said. “Just keep going back to the end game. What’s the bottom line? I’ll say it again — if you get their health and their spirit, it’s got a chance to equal form. … And it’s all about landing the plane. And so with 25 games left, we’ve taken a hit with Ben. 

"I do see it this way. I’m not spinning it. It’s an opportunity for us to learn and something will emerge. And we need something to emerge. It’s not like we were all saying, ‘Oh, here it is, it’s anointed.’ It wasn’t that. So, I think we’re going to learn something and find something. If this was six games out, I wouldn’t be telling you this story. When it’s 25 games out, it is, with all my heart, what I think. That’s what I said to the team, that’s what I really think and that’s what I’m going to try to pull off.

Who specifically will take over ball handling duties? Brown said it “will be done by committee” for the time being, and he named a few players who he expects to be in that mix. Monday night, the team started Shake Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. 

“The candidates could be Raul Neto or [Furkan Korkmaz] or Alec Burks or J-Rich, Shake," he said. "So, you have capable people that aren’t traditional point guards but have the ability to get the ball up the floor. Then at that point, you’re probably going to have to be in something that has motion and continuity instead of just giving Chris Paul the ball and saying, ‘Go to work’ out of a pick-and-roll, as an example.”

Regardless of Brown’s attitude, the tangible impact of not having Simmons will clearly be significant. He leads the league in steals, has assisted on the most three-pointers and is a highly athletic, versatile and talented player.

The loss of all those attributes will no doubt be difficult to overcome.

“When there is a vacuum, as there is right now with Ben, something will happen,” Brown said. “Somebody will step up. I’m trying to see the world through those eyes, and I really do — it’s not even creative coach speak. I see it as an opportunity, and I think I need to see it that way.”

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons suffered nerve impingement in lower back

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons suffered nerve impingement in lower back

Ben Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and will be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks, a team source confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Simmons will undergo daily treatment. 

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports “there's little expectation that [Simmons would] be ready to return to lineup that soon,” and says “doctors are hopeful treatment can drive improvement, but Sixers are preparing to play without him." 

According to head coach Brett Brown, Simmons was first injured at the team’s practice last Wednesday. The 23-year-old All-Star missed the team’s first game after the All-Star break, a win Thursday over the Nets. 

“It was a play where he went up for a rebound and I looked over and he left the court, and went and got treatment,” Brown said Thursday. “And it has played out as it has played out. We don’t believe it’s anything too significant.”

Simmons sat out the Sixers’ game vs. the Nets on Thursday and played Saturday in Milwaukee. He appeared to be in discomfort after drawing a foul in the first quarter on the Bucks’ Brook Lopez. The 23-year-old stayed in the game to make 1 of 2 free throws, then exited when Matisse Thybulle committed a foul to create a stoppage of play and ensure Simmons could return to the locker room.

Ahead of the game against the Bucks, Simmons had averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds and a league-best 2.2 steals. He’d played 36.3 minutes per game, most on the Sixers and third-highest in the NBA ahead of Saturday’s games. 

Brown talked before the Sixers’ win Monday over the Hawks as if he was prepared for a long-term absence. He said the team would split up ball handling responsibilities by committee, with Shake Milton, Josh Richardson and Alec Burks among the possible candidates. Milton started on Monday. 

The 36-22 Sixers are fifth in the Eastern Conference and play the Cavaliers on Wednesday night in Cleveland. 

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