Updated: 10:16 p.m.
The Sixers haven’t won a road game since Jan. 20, both of their All-Stars are injured and, if the playoffs started tonight, they would not have home court advantage. In short, things could be going much better.
Joel Embiid sustained a left shoulder sprain Wednesday night and the Sixers dropped to 36-23 with a 108-94 loss to the Cavaliers. They play the Knicks tomorrow night at Wells Fargo Center.
Here are observations on the loss:
First Simmons, now Embiid
Embiid grimaced after a collision off the ball with Ante Zizic late in the first quarter, feeling at the area around his left shoulder. He took and missed both free throws after the foul call, seemingly in significant pain, then left the game and went back to the locker room.
Early in the second quarter, Embiid briefly returned to the bench before again heading to the locker room. After a short conversation with head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson, he appeared to have a discussion in the tunnel with GM Elton Brand, who said before the season that he’d “be more a part of it with the players in a partnership for their care.”
The team announced at halftime that Embiid was out for the game.
Embiid’s injury is bad news for the Sixers regardless of the circumstances, but it’s obviously even worse in the context of Ben Simmons being sidelined with a nerve impingement in his lower back.
It was certainly possible to picture an Embiid-centric team thriving without Simmons, especially given that the Sixers have the third-easiest remaining schedule in the league. If both their All-Stars are out for an extended period of time, though, it would be a massive hit.
There are a heap of fair criticisms one can have about the Sixers this season — Brand’s decision to spend as much money as he did on Horford and Harris, other complementary pieces not doing enough, abysmal efforts on the road, you name it. However, having your second All-Star get hurt two days after he scored a career-high 49 points and the day after announcing the diagnosis of your other All-Star’s injury is just very bad luck.
After the game, Embiid told The Inquirer's Keith Pompey that he will have an MRI tomorrow.
Secondary options not close to good enough
With Embiid out, the Sixers needed Harris and Horford to carry a bigger load.
Neither player was up for the task.
Harris, whose status changed from doubtful to questionable to available for Monday’s game with a right knee contusion, did not look explosive and shot 4 of 13.
Horford made a few nice passes, had three steals and hit two threes, but he wasn’t nearly as good as the Sixers needed him to be, with 10 points in 34 minutes.
It wasn’t a strong night for Josh Richardson (nine points on 4 of 12 shooting), either.
Norvel Pelle was out for a second straight game with an upper respiratory illness, which led the Sixers to play Kyle O’Quinn as their backup center. In his first action during a close game since Jan. 20, Quinn had six points, four blocks and two rebounds.
O’Quinn reportedly wanted to be waived, but perhaps Embiid’s injury will shift his thinking. Players must be waived by March 1 in order to retain playoff eligibility in the event they’re picked up by another team that season. We looked at available guards that might be interest the Sixers today (see story).
Milton starts again
Shake Milton was the Sixers’ starting point guard, as he had been Monday vs. the Hawks.
The 23-year-old didn’t start the game well, allowing Darius Garland to hit his first three shots. Though the defensive drop-off from Simmons to Milton is substantial, Milton was a bright spot offensively, picking the right spots to attack and knocking down 4 of 6 threes.
He finished with 20 points, four rebounds, four assists and no turnovers. If you’d like a positive in a situation that currently looks rather bleak, Milton is a good choice.
Richardson and Alec Burks (13 points on 6 of 12 shooting) split up backup ball handling duties.
A terrible 1st half
The Cavs scored 30 of the game’s first 36 points in the paint. The Sixers missed a handful of open looks inside early, including a very easy fast break Horford layup attempt off a long pass from Milton. They made just 11 of their first 36 field goals and 2 of their first 12 threes.
No Sixer played especially well in the first half, and yet the team only trailed by 11 points. With all due respect to the 17-win Cavs, who did beat the Heat on Monday, the deficit would surely have been worse if the Sixers were playing a decent opponent.
Embiid’s injury played a part in these particular early road struggles, but a team that is 27-2 at home should simply not be 9-21 on the road.
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