76ers

Tobias Harris explains how Sixers addressed chemistry issues during hiatus

Tobias Harris explains how Sixers addressed chemistry issues during hiatus

The Sixers participated in training camp, five preseason games and 65 regular-season games. There were plenty of road trips and practices in between. Suffice it to say they spent a lot of time together.

Then suddenly on March 11, the NBA season was suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic. The players went their separate ways and were forced to socially distance like the rest of us.

Over the past four months, they’ve all stayed in communication, thanks in large part to Tobias Harris. Harris had emerged as a leader even before the season started and proved to be the team’s most reliable player as the only one to suit up for all 65 games.

Ahead of the Sixers’ first practice in the Disney World bubble Saturday afternoon, Harris talked about why it was imperative to keep in touch.

I think it’s always important to make sure guys mentally are in the right space,” Harris said in a video conference call with reporters. “Just being a teammate or brother. We were around each other for so long, so when we go into quarantine with the pandemic we have, I just thought it was really important to keep us in the loop with one another with what we’re doing, whether that be Zoom calls, checking in through group texts — we’ve got a group text on Instagram. 

“I also looked at it like, if we’re being honest, we didn’t have the best chemistry through the year with everything going on. So just to use the time to kind of build on that chemistry and help us grow a little bit together through the whole pandemic.

Harris has been candid about the team lacking chemistry. That’s part of the reason the Sixers, who had lofty expectations going into the season, sit at 39-26 and are currently the East’s sixth seed.

That lack of cohesiveness can be attributed in part to the team’s new-look starting five playing just 19 games together and the fact that the team in general has seen a lot of turnover over the past two seasons.

Even Harris himself has only been with the team since just before last year’s trade deadline. Part of the reason GM Elton Brand looked to re-sign Harris is he saw the nine-year veteran as a leader and player that would do well representing the franchise.

From a basketball perspective, Brand signed Harris to provide complementary scoring to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. While Harris hasn’t quite lived up to near-max status, he’s proven to be a reliable player and locker room voice. 

The 27-year-old’s efforts to keep the lines of communicatin open have him feeling like the team has bonded through the experience. The human element is something we lose sight of when discussing grown men being paid a lot of money to play a sport.

But consider that these players were dealing with a global pandemic and the racial inequality issues gripping the country. Now, they’ve been thrust into a less-than-ideal situation as they look to gel over the course of the next few weeks and gear up for a playoff run.

In an unprecedented and tumultuous time, they’ve had each other to lean on.

And, as most of his teammates will tell you, Harris was at the forefront of that.

I feel as a player and as one of the leaders on the team, we definitely have grown throughout the pandemic,” Harris said. “It was a time for us to really communicate with one another, get to know each other a little bit more than we may have known (each other) before. So I definitely think it’s a positive.

"I think just having constant communication and being able to reach other was key. Obviously we had a bunch of Zoom meeting calls and whatnot. We’ve really taken this time to try to keep ourselves and our mindset going, and to be ready. And here we are. So hopefully it pays off and works.

How will that translate to the court?

“I think we’ll see how it translates,” Harris said. “At the same time, it’s no mystery that the teams with the best chemistry usually end up being the teams that are some of the toughest to beat. That’s not rocket science.”

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Sixers injury update: Joel Embiid (left ankle) out against Suns; Ben Simmons has surgery

Sixers injury update: Joel Embiid (left ankle) out against Suns; Ben Simmons has surgery

The Sixers’ injury update on Monday was a long one. 

Joel Embiid is out for Tuesday’s game against the Suns with the left ankle injury he sustained in the first quarter Sunday vs. the Blazers. He’ll be undergoing treatment and evaluation at the team’s practice Monday night.

Brett Brown said he expected Embiid to play again before the playoffs, though characterized that view as “just one man’s opinion.”

Josh Richardson, who scored 34 points against Portland, will rest Tuesday. Tobias Harris is questionable with right ankle soreness and Al Horford is questionable with left knee soreness. Harris hasn’t missed a game this season, while Horford said in July, “I probably wasn’t where I wanted to be” physically earlier in the season but felt “in a much better place” after being able to rest during the NBA’s hiatus. 

The length of the injury report is not surprising after Brown on Monday seemed receptive when asked about possibly restricting minutes for key players in the team’s final three seeding games.

“I think it’s true ... where you want an honest sort of medical assessment of anything that equals a potential problem — you just want to avoid (it),” he said. “And landing the plane and entering the playoffs from this vision line of a bubble and time off and tiptoeing on pins and needles where you don’t want people to get injured, and then still find a rhythm, that’s a slippery slope. 

“You mentioned Jo. I think the question extends to people like Al Horford, as an example. Making sure Tobias is in a place where we can manage his minutes going forward and still find that balance of trying to compete and find a rhythm.”

Ben Simmons was the other player on Monday’s report. 

The 24-year-old had successful surgery to remove a loose body in his left knee, the team said, performed by Dr. Chris Dodson from Rothman Orthopaedic Institute. He’ll begin rehabilitation in Philadelphia immediately and will have a post-operative evaluation in approximately two weeks. 

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Sixers Talk podcast: A lot more questions than answers right now

getty-joel-embiid-injury.jpg
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Sixers Talk podcast: A lot more questions than answers right now

On this edition of the Sixers Talk podcast, we discuss the health of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, whether the All-Star duo should stay together and much more.

(0:32) — Embiid suffers an injury and Lillard drops 51.
(9:16) — Don't expect a deep playoff run.
(14:30) — More pressure on Shake Milton or Josh Richardson going forward?
(21:41) — Will Brett Brown get a pass if the Sixers don't succeed?
(34:39) — Here we go with the trading Embiid or Simmons talk again.

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