If the NBA does ultimately resume play in about six weeks at Disney World as planned, health and safety will be prominent storylines for every team traveling to a quasi-bubble during a pandemic.
For the Sixers, that’s especially true — any new information on Ben Simmons’ lower back or Joel Embiid’s conditioning is notable. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix provided an update on Simmons through a conversation he had with Brett Brown.
“My opinion, and this is not confirmed yet, is that we are going to be able to inch him back into this,” Brown told Mannix. “Is he going to be 100%, I don’t expect that. But I think he is going to be available.”
It’s worth emphasizing that Brown considers his comment an “opinion,” and that it’s not a major departure from any previous update.
On May 5, Elton Brand said he was “very optimistic (Simmons will) be able to play if and when we’re given that green light to resume.”
On May 15, Brown praised Simmons for his efforts to rehab from the lower back nerve impingement he suffered in February, which Brown described as serious and “disturbing.”
“It could be a little bit of the silver lining of this pandemic,” he said, “just the fact that you actually have the chance to get somebody like Ben, as important as Ben is, back into our team.”
The NBA intends to have eight “seeding games” before the postseason, which would begin on Aug. 17. Though the Sixers would have a chance to rise as high as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, those games leading into the postseason clearly wouldn’t be as high-stakes, and they could provide an opportunity for Simmons to ramp up to a higher level of health and fitness.
Shake Milton had thrived during Simmons’ absence, starting at point guard and averaging 17.8 points and 4.1 assists over his past nine games. However many minutes Simmons is able to play, Milton should retain a key role.
That was actually a point Brown made back on March 10, the day before the NBA season was suspended, in forecasting what might change if/when Simmons returned.
He's still optimistic about the Sixers' title chances.
"... It’s a melting pot of opportunity," he told Mannix, "albeit under crazy sort of conditions.”
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