7 for 6: Post All Star Break Woes

Simmons injury

As if the Sixers needed another challenge, Ben Simmons will be out for at least two weeks. The All Star, leading the league in steals, hurt his back during practice last week. He was ruled out of the game versus Brooklyn, but allowed to play two days later against Milwaukee. Five minutes into the game, Simmons left to the locker room and did not return. Later testing revealed a nerve impingement.

Simmons has been remarkably durable up to this point in his career, so his long term health most is not in  serious jeopardy. But considering the potential severity of back injuries, the team’s decision to play him against the Bucks seems very poor in hindsight.

Embiid’s Ups and Downs

It was an eventful week for Joel Embiid as well. On Monday, he set a new career high with 49 points against the Atlanta Hawks.

In typical fashion, it didn’t come without some friction. Embiid scored his 49th point on a step back three pointer with the game well out of reach. With less than 30 seconds left, he collected a defensive rebound and advanced the ball to dribble the clock out. Atlanta’s Kevin Heurter stole the ball from behind. Embiid immediately flipped him off. He apologized after the game, but also dropped an f-bomb while he did it. Embiid was fined $25,000.

That may have hurt his wallet, but Embiid suffered an actual injury two days later in a miserable loss to Cleveland. He sprained his shoulder, but luckily avoided any structural damage. He’ll be re-evaluated in the next week.

Horford to the bench

In the final game before the All Star break, Al Horford came off the bench for the first time since his rookie season. The immediate results were good; a decisive home win over Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers.

Horford took the demotion well, and doesn’t seem to think his role will be much different.

“I don’t think it changes much, to be honest,” Horford said last week. “I am going to be out there defensively, setting the tone for our group…and offensively, where I get my spots, make plays or be ready to shoot, pretty much the same… I [will be] playing similar to what I was playing before.”

To an extent he’s been right. His minutes haven’t dipped majorly, and since Brett Brown staggers his lineups Horford still gets minutes with Embiid, Richardson, and Harris.

This experiment last all of…two games. Horford started against the Hawks on Monday, largely due to the absence of Simmons. Brett Brown was asked about the decision to put Horford back with the starters.

“I look at it as an opportunity to grow a group that will be playing when Ben is sitting,” Brown explained. “Can I have an opportunity to see who might be able to be the backup point guard? In that sort of design, Al came in. I thought some of his passes tonight were elite. He really made some sophisticated plays. I started him for those reasons.”

He does have a point that Horford is a good passer. And I agree with his larger point that Horford should be able to play with the most important players. But the fact is that he hasn’t been able to at this point. Ultimately I don’t know if Brown has a way to fix Horford’s fit through lineup tweaks. It will always come down to Horford just playing better.

Focus on depth

With their two best players out, now the Sixers have no choice but to start Horford. He, along with Tobias Harris, are now expected to anchor the team. Maximizing the lineups around them will be crucial. Coincidentally, the absence of Embiid and Simmons will let Harris and Horford occupy their natural 4 and 5 spots on the floor.

The newest guard in the lineup is Shake Milton, who is doing his job nicely.

Glen Robinson,one of the team’s trade deadline acquisitions, has had less success. After his 10 point debut with the Sixers on Feb. 9th, he hasn’t scored more than six points in a game. Last week he made some frustration known, claiming that he wasn’t sure what his role was.  He was able to start against the Knicks on Thursday.

Standings Remain Close

Even amidst a brutal stretch of their season, the Sixers haven’t lost much ground. They only trail Miami by half a game for the 4th seed in the East, thanks to some recrnt abysmal Heat losses to Atlanta, Cleveland, and Minnesota.

The next four games for the Sixers will be on the road, and if you haven’t heard yet, that is just terrible news. It’s a west coast swing that opens with a rematch against the Clippers on Sunday afternoon, followed by the Western Conference leading Lakers two days later. It softens up with the final two contests against Sacramento and Golden State, both teams being out of the playoff picture.

All stats via Basketball-reference.com

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