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December 07, 2018

Joel Embiid will miss Friday's game vs. Detroit for rest, and it's the right call

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101718-JoelEmbiid-USAToday Greg M. Cooper/USA Today

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid sits on the bench in the final seconds of the game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.

Joel Embiid will sit out of Friday night's game against the Detroit Pistons in order to get the big man some rest, Brett Brown told reporters on the road during the morning shootaround.

NBC Sports' Serena Winters was the first to relay the news from Detroit, with Brown pointing out what was obvious to most people who follow the team intently.

Just to get this out of the way — team representatives I spoke to assured me there is nothing else going on here. No lingering injury concern, no major red flag, just an effort to get the big man some more downtime.

It's a surprising development on some level because few would have guessed you could convince the franchise center to sit against one of his archrivals, Andre Drummond, in a game that will be nationally televised. After sitting out for two seasons and having his first year cut short by a meniscus tear, getting Embiid to sit out of any game tends to be an exercise in futility.

But this was a necessary step for a big man carrying a giant load for the Sixers this season, and especially for one with all of the previous health concerns to consider.

Embiid has played the second-most minutes in the league this season, trailing only Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors through the first 26 games. He has quickly gone from a player whose situation was monitored on a moment-to-moment basis to a player who it is impossible to keep off the floor. That's a good thing, surely, but Embiid's "pitch count" has absolutely gone too far in the other direction, which Brown has commented on all throughout the season.

He has started to suffer in recent games because of this. Embiid had one of the worst games of his career against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday evening, and you could see all the classic signs of fatigue during the game. He was a step slow on rotations, settled for jumpers on offense, and did not have the commanding presence we are used to seeing.

There was chatter among fans and reporters after the game about the need to rest him, and those on the "No!" side pointed out that the Sixers had the two previous days off before the Toronto game, getting him plenty of rest before his disappointing night. But that's not really how the human body works.

Forget about highly-trained athletes for a second and just focus on how we know sleep works. If you get less than optimal hours of rest for weeks at a time, going overboard for a couple nights does not help make up the deficit. 12+4+4+4 and 8+8+8 do not actually equal the same thing in this case. Apply the same logic to Embiid's workload, and you can see exactly why those two days of rest are not just going to magically restore the life in Embiid's mind and legs.

You have to be conscious of this at all times, and the Sixers have not been as proactive as they need to be up until now. Brown may have acknowledged the need to play him less over recent months, but you have to actually walk the talk. That we reached the rest point this way, as a reaction to his obvious fatigue and faltering play, does not speak highly to the Sixers' handling of this matter. This is something that they've been meticulous about planning in the past, and it all went out the window with Embiid playing so well.

I believe that's a much bigger failure from the coaching staff and the organization than any of the usual complaints about rotations, timeouts, and the like. Embiid is the crown jewel of your franchise. Treat him like it.

This will allow them, however, to get Embiid some meaningful time to get right on the sideline. Philadelphia doesn't play again until Monday, which gives Embiid at least four days between the Toronto game and his next potential appearance. A couple isolated days of rest might not do the trick, but six rest days (or at least non gamedays) in a week is a start. Philadelphia has to be concerned with the long haul here, because the Jimmy Butler trade and their push to contend will be irrelevant if the big fella isn't firing on all cylinders in late April.

Speaking of Butler, this is a chance for the Sixers and Brown to try out some different combinations and potentially some changes to the rotation. Brown has started untying Simmons and Butler from one another just a tad in recent games, and you wonder if that could get more dramatic on Friday night. Without a third star to stagger, the Sixers might want to lean into Butler's ability to run the offense as a primary ballhandler, perhaps even using him as a defacto point guard when Simmons hits the bench.

It's Simmons, however, who needs to do the heaviest lifting in Embiid's absence. Philadelphia took off down the stretch last season by surrounding him with shooters and turning him loose, and he was dominant. Simmons and Butler can operate a lot more from the mid-post without Embiid out there, which should hopefully benefit in some cutting lanes and open threes for the rest of the gang on the perimeter.

Bottom line: this is the right call for Philadelphia, but the process (heh) leaves a lot to be desired. The Sixers need to be more proactive with Embiid's rest moving forward, to either minimize or alleviate the need to sit him down the road.


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