76ers

There's nothing more important to Sixers than a healthy Joel Embiid

There's nothing more important to Sixers than a healthy Joel Embiid

There’s very little chance Joel Embiid can win MVP, but if you were going to make the case, Sunday’s game would be Exhibit A.

After going 4-4 in the eight games Embiid has missed since the All-Star break, the Sixers welcomed back their “crown jewel” in a big 106-89 win over the Pacers at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

With a chance to take the season series against Indiana and take control of the Eastern Conference’s third seed, the All-Star center poured in 33 points in just 27 minutes.

If there were any questions about what Embiid means to this team, they were answered resoundingly.

“I mean where do I begin?" Brett Brown said. "You all see what I see. He is a difference maker in all ways, shapes and forms. The first thing you talk about is stuff at the rim, that’s what I felt the most pain when we didn’t have him, was just the rim protection …

“He took 15 free throws in 28 minutes — that’s a number, that’s a mentality. He kept wearing out their interior players to the point where he was obviously our bell ringer tonight.”

After knocking off some rust to start, Embiid started to impose his will on the Pacers’ big men. He was able to get Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis in foul trouble, with each player picking up their fourth foul early in the third quarter.

Getting to the line 15 times and making 11 allowed Embiid to get into the flow of the game offensively, leading to a dominant 18-point fourth quarter which helped seal the win.

“The game kept going, I just kept getting better,” Embiid said. “Getting to the line helped a lot, too. The game started slowing down for me, but my focus was really defensively, just by the way we’ve been playing and the way we were playing, so I felt like I had to — I don’t think I had a blocked shot today, but just being all over the place helping my teammates.”

He certainly was “all over the place.” 

After two pretty dismal defensive efforts in Chicago and Houston, the Sixers held the Pacers to just 89 points, the fewest points they’ve allowed in a game this season. Indiana shot just 37 percent from the floor, the fourth-lowest mark for a Sixers’ opponent in 2018-19.

They were clearly missing their defensive anchor, who needed to get back in game shape after missing eight games. Embiid hadn’t played meaningful basketball in almost a month. 

After a rigorous practice Saturday, Embiid and Brown weren’t sure if the big man would be ready to go for the critical matchup Sunday.

“Yesterday, basically [Brown] told me I wasn’t ready because yesterday after practice I was on the floor crying for my life,” Embiid said. “So I didn’t think I was going to come in and play [a lot].”

They got 27 minutes and it was clear they needed it. 

“It’s been hard because you want to be out there,” Embiid said. “For the people that know me, you know I hate not playing. I always want to play and I always push to play, but at the end of the day, you got to trust all these guys. We’ve all done a great job as far as getting me back on the court, taking the right approach. 

“I’m sure at some point, in these last 15 games I’m going to miss a game just to make sure that I’m good to go for the playoffs. But they’ve been doing a great job, from the coaching staff to the medical staff to the front office. It worked out pretty well and I feel better.”

Getting chemistry among the team’s starting five and having better communication on defense is important.

But nothing is more important than having a healthy Embiid.

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Mike Scott's heel injury could be a big problem for Sixers vs. Raptors

Mike Scott's heel injury could be a big problem for Sixers vs. Raptors

CAMDEN, N.J. — Considering the depth of the Toronto Raptors, the Sixers possibly missing a key part of their bench is not ideal.

Mike Scott, who is essentially the team’s sixth man, is listed as day to day with a heel contusion and plantar fasciitis. Scott left Game 5 Tuesday against the Nets late in the second quarter and did not return. We’ll know more about his status for Game 1 when the official injury report comes out at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.

When asked if he was game planning for Scott to play, Brett Brown bluntly said, “no.” Brown mentioned it would be a “blessing” if Scott were to be available.

While his veteran savvy, toughness and shot-making — especially in Game 4 — will clearly be missed, Scott’s versatility will be crucial in this series. With Boban Marjanovic, it’s hard to know what you’ll get. He was excellent in the Brooklyn series, but could be a poor matchup against Serge Ibaka, who the Raptors have been using as their backup five.

Scott offers the ability to play backup five if Marjanovic struggles. Ibaka is lethal in pick-and-pop situation with his midrange jumper. While Ibaka may be tough for Scott to deal with in the post, he’s a much better option for pick-and-roll defense.

Scouting Kawhi

Kawhi Leonard is really freaking good. That’s not breaking news, but it’s a point being drilled into the Sixers as the team is being pelted with questions about the All-Star forward.

Leonard is arguably the best two-way player in the league and has killed the Sixers this season, averaging 30.3 points a game and tormenting Ben Simmons defensively.

Brown, who was with the Spurs as an assistant when Leonard was coming up, acknowledged some of the issues Simmons and the Sixers have had against Leonard. Brown didn’t want to put too much stock into the regular season matchups, but has ideas on how to help his young point guard deal with the former Defensive Player of the Year.

“Obviously, I’m not going to tell you,” Brown said. “Maybe the knowledge I have coaching him [will help]. The history we’ve had having a little bit of success [against him], some unsuccessful that we have to do better at. We hope that we’re studied. I believe we are. He still remains an All-Star and one of the great players in the NBA for a reason.”

After having arguably the best regular season of his career, Leonard has carried it over into the postseason. He averaged 27.8 points a game in the Raptors’ first-round matchup against the Magic while shooting 56 percent from the field and a ridiculous 54 percent on 5.2 three per game.

“Kawhi is a bonafide superstar in this league,” JJ Redick said. “There’s only a handful of guys like that spread over 30 teams much less 16 teams in the playoffs.”

Does he look all the way back from the quad issues he dealt with in San Antonio?

“I think he looks better,” Redick said. “Yeah, he’s pretty damn good.”

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Sixers very well represented among NBA's most popular jerseys

Sixers very well represented among NBA's most popular jerseys

LeBron James may be king but the Sixers have an impressive triumvirate of their own when it comes to jersey sales for the year.

The NBA and its players association announced the top 15 most popular jerseys on Thursday for the 2018-19 regular season and the Sixers are well represented.

James' Los Angeles Lakers jersey comes in the top spot followed by Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyrie Irving. Sixers big man Joel Embiid rounds out the top five. The five spot is the highest Embiid has ranked in any season in terms of jerseys sold.

And while no other NBA team has more than two players in the top 15 of sales, the Sixers have three guys in the top 10.

Ben Simmons comes in at ninth on the list behind James Harden (6), Russell Westbrook (7) and Kevin Durant (8). Simmons is followed by his newer teammate in Jimmy Butler at the 10 spot.

In terms of total team sales, the Sixers rank fourth behind only the Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics. 

Dwyane Wade, Paul George, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum round out the top 15, respectively.

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