I imagine it’s not great for your health to be a Sixers fan in 2019-2020. Just when we thought all would be well after the break, Ben Simmons was reported as having back pain. Now, it’s been reported there are nerve issues with Simmons’ back and he won’t be evaluated for two weeks.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Joel Embiid left the game against the Cavs with a shoulder sprain and likely won’t be evaluated again for at least a week.
A recap of last week
Just like that, the Simmons or Embiid argument has officially ended and the new concern is, “how soon can we even get these guys back?” The last week was rough. The Sixers went 2-2 over the past week and lost both their superstars for at least the next week or two. The loss to Cleveland was especially hurtful because Cleveland was one of those games you absolutely need to win. The Cavs were in complete disarray before the break, having just lost their coach.
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The Sixers now just need to focus on finding a formula that can help them now and not worry about what they’re going to do once their stars return. This stage is what we like to call the “stop the bleeding” phase, and it may just help the Sixers front office decide if Brett Brown has the chops to lead this team in the future.
One interesting tidbit about the Sixers this season is that they are an NBA-best 28-2 at home this season and just 9-21 away. To put that into perspective, the 17-41 Minnesota Timberwolves have a better road record (10-20). That’s the most insane split I’ve ever seen by an NBA team. The Sixers should probably work on that.
76ers vs Bucks Feb 22
The Sixers traveled to Milwaukee last Saturday to face the NBA’s best, the Milwaukee Bucks. It was already going to be a challenge to face the Bucks at their place, but the uncertainty of Ben Simmons made things that much more challenging. Five minutes into the game, Ben Simmons was out. His back started giving him issues again and the staff decided it best he not risk it.
At the half, the Sixers were within striking range. To that point, the game had been relatively fast-paced and the Sixers were only down six. As soon as the third quarter began, it turned into a boat race. The Bucks lead swelled and there wasn’t much the Sixers could do to keep up. Despite the okay night from downtown, the Sixers were getting completely destroyed on the boards (-14). The turnovers were aiding the Sixers along the way as they forced a whopping 17 Bucks miscues, but it was just not enough to keep them competitive.
The Sixers shot just 35% from the field, led by the trio of Embiid, Korkmaz, and Milton. It was a frustrating game for the Sixers as Giannis put up 31 points, 17 boards, and eight assists. With just two days off, it was a quick turnaround for the Sixers, who had just one day off to prepare for a home game against the Atlanta Hawks.
76ers vs Hawks Feb 24
As customary for Joel Embiid, a disappointing road performance sparked an outstanding home performance against the Atlanta Hawks. Embiid had a career-high 49 points against the Hawks and added 14 rebounds. The Sixers jumped out all over the Hawks to begin the game, going for 41 points in the first quarter.
After the half, the Hawks came out and had a 40-point quarter of their own in the third and held a slim lead going into the final quarter. Despite the clear momentum change, Philadelphia came on strong down the stretch, outscoring the Hawks by 18 points in the fourth to close out a 17-point victory. The Sixers were +2 in turnover differential and +4 in rebounding differential. The difference in this game was shot accuracy.
The Hawks went 41% from the field, 21% from three, and 89% from the line. The Sixers went 51% from the field, 40% from deep, and 90% from the line (27-30). It was an encouraging win, especially for those of us who have been waiting to see what Embiid’s ceiling could look like.
76ers vs Cavaliers Feb 26
Just when we start to get excited about how incredible Joel Embiid looked against the Hawks, he came out Wednesday against the Cavs and played only eight minutes before exiting with a shoulder injury. This season has been one groin shot after another, as another early game injury forced Brett Brown to adjust his game plan completely.
Following the departure of Embiid, the Sixers had no interior presence. Harris and Horford combined for just nine rebounds and the Sixers finished with just 31 as a team (-12). Despite being +10 on turnovers, the Sixers couldn’t make much of it, going 40% from the field and 34% from three. The 13-38 effort from three kept the Sixers around, but Cleveland was efficient on offense, going 53% from the field, 46% from three, and 88% from the line.
Collin Sexton led with 28 points and Larry Nance Jr led with 15 rebounds. For the Sixers, Shake Milton was the leading scorer with 20 points on a 4-6 effort from deep. I know the loss of Embiid really killed the Sixers on the glass, but they’re going to have to be more competitive in rebounding to stay in games, especially if your offense is being carried by Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, and Shake Milton.
76ers vs Knicks Feb 27
Brett Brown passed his first test by successfully game planning around the loss of Embiid and Simmons. Kyle O’Quinn came in off the bench and secured ten rebounds in 14 minutes, while Horford, Harris, and Richardson each had seven. The Sixers won the battle on the boards (+5) as well as the turnover battle (+2) as the Sixers turned the ball over only six times all game.
The team isn’t as potent without Simmons and Embiid, but when both are off the floor this season, the team commits far fewer turnovers. Tobias Harris stepped up in a big way, scoring 34 points on 14-21 shooting. The Sixers also reeled in 11 offensive rebounds. It was certainly a different look of a team and one without as high of a ceiling, but Al Horford was substantially better in this setup, scoring 15 points, pulling down seven rebounds, and dishing out nine assists. I suppose that’s the silver lining with the current situation. The Sixers are shifting towards a more traditional form of offense we used to see more of in the league and it’s looked good for Horford thus far.
Are the Sixers a good bet for the title?
This probably isn’t the best time to bring this up. But given the recent injuries to Simmons and Embiid, I’m still somewhat optimistic about the 76ers chances to win the 2019-2020 NBA title. At the time of this writing, the Philadelphia 76ers are +2500 to win the title on PlaySugarHouse and BetRivers.
The Sixers are still the #5 seed in the East. At their current pace, considering their injuries, they’re still probably going to be the #5 seed in the East. With the Heat looking more and more like the definitive #4 seed, that gives the Sixers a solid matchup in round one. By then, Simmons and Embiid should be healthy (fingers crossed) and honestly, I think they have a decent shot at being a solid team in the postseason.
My reasoning may sound strange, but hear me out. We’re wanted, all season, for a specific offensive style to emerge from the Sixers. We’re seen more than a handful of successful strategies, but nothing has really stuck. Part of that is the injuries forcing changes to the lineup and another part of it is just the spacing issues with both Simmons and Embiid on the court. We’ve seen the Sixers change things up offensively and run certain styles at one point in the game and switch to others. As inconsistent as it’s been, the advantage of having no discernable offensive identity is that it leaves the opposing teams with no solid way of preparing for the Sixers offense.
With teams like the Bucks, you can focus on finding ways to clog the paint and make inside scoring difficult for Giannis. We’ve seen teams let Giannis shoot his team out of the game via missed threes. The Sixers are unique because they’re going to dictate what the defense is going to have to do, based off what they decide to run on that day.
So, the Sixers should have a great advantage in a long playoff series with the same opponent. It’s both the blessing and curse of one of the most versatile, dynamic teams in the league. Though they seem to win a lot of games through some struggles and they rarely blow out opponents, their opponents are going to struggle to continue to find ways to shut down the Sixers. I think +2500 is a steal. If the Sixers can get by the Bucks in round two, the rest of the east seems feasible. If there ever is going to be a time to take the Sixers this season, it’s when the team is crippled by injuries and the panic is in full effect.