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April 25, 2019

Practice notes: Injury to Sixers' Mike Scott will impact preparation for Toronto Raptors

Sixers forward Mike Scott appears to have dodged the major injury some feared when he limped out of Philadelphia's Game 5 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. But even a minor injury to a rotation player looms large at this time of year, and from the sound of things, the Sixers are going to have to prepare to do battle without the veteran forward.

According to the Sixers, Scott suffered a bruised right heel in the second quarter on Tuesday night, and to make matters worse, he's dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. We did not receive any clarity on whether this was a recent surge or a problem Scott has been dealing with for a while, but the upshot is that he was forced to miss practice on Thursday and is considered "day-to-day" by the team's medical staff.

When asked if he was developing a gameplan thinking that Scott would be available to him, Brown was short and to the point.

"No, I'm not," Brown told reporters Thursday. "If we do, it's a blessing, a bonus."

There is probably an element of caginess here and we'll know his official status at 5:30 p.m. Friday night, but that is not what you want to hear about one of the team's only reliable bench players heading into a series against a team with a lot more depth. The Sixers have been able to put Scott's name on the team sheet in permanent ink, and he brings the same elements every single night — floor spacing, toughness, and inconsistent but ultimately okay-ish defense.

Where this really hurts the Sixers is in the flexibility department. We'll discuss this in greater detail on Friday, but Marc Gasol's acquisition at the deadline has given the Raptors a pair of big men that can step out and knock down jumpers. Between Gasol and Serge Ibaka, they can match Philadelphia's size while also presenting problems for Boban Marjanovic on the defensive end, which means we might see the Sixers turn to some small ball in this series.

It's an issue Brown is keenly aware of as they prepare to head to Canada.

"I think deeply about it, it's the question that's obvious, what are you going to do in the event the series becomes too tough for Boban?" Brown said Thursday. "Serge [Ibaka] is very much like LaMarcus Aldridge to me in that he's an elite long two guy. He can make 18-20 foot jump shots in his sleep...there's adjustments that certainly have to be considered and would have to be made, Plan A and Plan B stuff I've thought through a lot."

Scott is one of the players who represent a bridge to Plan B, should they need it. As we discussed Thursday morning, Philadelphia's small ball numbers were elite in round one, and putting four shooters on the floor with Ben Simmons led to great success for Philly during a small sample against Brooklyn.

Without Scott, your options become limited. Do you trust Jonah Bolden, who has proven to be a bit of a space cadet on defense at times? Do you activate Zhaire Smith to play spot minutes on the wing and slide James Ennis up to the four spot? Is this a series where you can trust T.J. McConnell again, despite the success of the Butler-led second unit against Brooklyn? None of the answers are perfect, particularly because they hinge on Simmons guarding centers and thus moving away from the perimeter assignments he has excelled on.

There is sort of a natural reaction to decry Philadelphia's depth as a unique issue when one of their top bench pieces goes down, and there is some truth to that. James Ennis' early return against Brooklyn helped stabilize the rotation, and it seems crazy to say that was a turning point in the series but it is 100 percent true. Their backup plans are awful nearly across the board, and no one really denies this.

But I do think it gets overstated how unique this problem is for the Sixers. If you removed Andre Iguodala from the Warriors, for example, they would be in big trouble despite having what may be the best starting unit in the history of basketball. Austin Rivers and Kenneth Faried were midseason pickups the Rockets made at minimal cost, and if they lost one of them now they would be in a very tough spot despite having the league's most prolific offensive player. And don't be surprised if the Celtics, still missing Marcus Smart, finally feel that absence catching up to them against Milwaukee in round two.

When you build around expensive, ball-dominant stars, you have to sacrifice quality depth. The Sixers are not the Clippers, who can bring waves of good players off of the bench because many of them are on cheap-ish deals and fighting for their next contract. These are problems you ultimately live with — the Sixers blew Brooklyn out of the water because their starters were the elite group they were supposed to be, and everything else was just a sideshow.

If you're looking for a silver lining here, it's that Scott is one tough S.O.B., and perhaps he will find his way back into the rotation sooner than others in his position would. But that's strictly guesswork.

So we will wait and see what happens next with Scott, and how that impacts the Philly gameplan. They can hardly afford to sit around and count on him, though. There is a series to go out and win.

Other news and notes

The Sixers went to great lengths to make sure everyone knows this is a group that hasn't played the Raptors yet. Tobias Harris was not around until after the final meeting this season, and the oft-discussed losing streak in Toronto that dates back to 2012 does not matter to this team.

Jimmy Butler even went so far as to say (or perhaps pretend, it's hard for one to know) that until the media brought it up on Thursday afternoon, he was not even aware it was a thing.

"I don't care, because I didn't even know that until you just brought it up," Butler said. "Basketball is basketball, you can't live too long in the past, I don't think anybody is thinking about it like that."

Whether it was intentional or not, Butler tried to put on the appearance of someone who was unbothered across the board about the challenge in front of Philadelphia. He waltzed into the scrum with country music playing from the phone in his pocket, was less animated than we usually see him in front of the camera, and he made sure to note that while Kawhi Leonard is a great two-way player he is not going to be intimidated by him.

If you're expecting the Sixers to embrace the underdog mentality the way the Philadelphia Eagles did the year they won the Super Bowl, I think you'll be left disappointed. They don't seem like a group particularly interested in whatever is going on outside the building, as JJ Redick said in so many words.

"We don't really talk about that, to be honest with you," Redick said. "Brett may bring it up, I don't know, we may end up using some of that, I don't know. It's not something we've necessarily thought about or talked about going into the series."

As Butler explained in an unrelated question at practice, basketball is not really about sustaining one long run or emotional push. There are peaks and valleys that you have to survive in order to emerge as a winner at the end of the series. Toronto and Philly will exchange blows for as long as this lasts, and the key will be minimizing damage during the down periods.

So put away the dog and ski masks, because it's too warm out for that nonsense anyway. If the Sixers win, it'll be because they were the better team over a seven-game series, not because they worked themselves up into a rage over slights from the public.

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