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April 17, 2019

Practice notes: Sixers getting slightly healthier as series shifts to Brooklyn

Sixers NBA

This time of year, you're lucky if your team is playing at 75 percent health, let alone at full strength. The Sixers are not going to see their guys in perfect condition the rest of the way, with the grind of the playoffs putting stress on everyone's bodies in April and May.

But the Sixers do seem to be in a better spot now than they were a week ago, with Joel Embiid getting into better shape and James Ennis healthy and ready to contribute to the rotation again. 

Embiid, who received treatment on Wednesday but was mostly uninvolved with the team's light practice, was a different sort of player in Game 2 than in Game 1. 

"You hear me talk about, we've got to buy some time to get him healthy," Brown said. "In that path, in that sort of notion, incrementally his fitness will keep getting better and better and better. So perhaps in Game 2, he could go rim-to-rim a few more times more easily, that could be true."

But the head coach made sure to note fitness is not the only thing that will make a difference in how Embiid looks against the Nets. On Monday night, we saw Embiid play with a different level of purpose, passing up open looks from deep to establish himself on the low block.

It didn't lead to the best individual performance for Embiid, but stationing Embiid in the post led to a much better performance for the team as a whole. And Brown says that was deliberate, not a product of Embiid freelancing.

"I think the overarching reason to me is that was a vehement gameplan thing. When you look at where is our bread buttered, where are our strengths, it's him," Brown said. "Somewhere in the middle between maybe getting in a little bit better condition and a gameplan thing, [it] produced a higher volume of paint touches."

The nature of Embiid's injury means we're unlikely to see him suit up this postseason while totally pain-free. Managing the problem is the best they can hope to do, and the real key is disposing of the Nets as quickly as possible. The quicker this series is over, the more time the Sixers could hope to have between the end of round one and the start of round two. Brown did say, however, that if the Sixers had needed Embiid in a close game on Monday night, that the big man would have been good to go.

The reintroduction of Ennis might be the key to being their best and earning that rest time for Embiid. Ennis' return on Monday night allowed Brown to shift Jimmy Butler into the backup point guard role when Ben Simmons hits the bench, and the head coach believes no one should take Ennis' importance for granted.

"I see and feel the inclusion of James in a bunch of different areas," Brown said. "The belief and the intent is that we're going to see more of him, that he will be healthier to play more minutes if that's what I choose to do. I think that the inclusion of James Ennis helped us maybe more than others might truly understand."

"He brings a lot of energy as a vet. He's a great leader for me personally," Ben Simmons added. "He motivates me when I'm having a down game or whatever the case is, brings that energy on the offensive glass, and [he] runs the floor."

There's no word yet on whether the 12-minute count Ennis was on in Game 2 will be raised in Game 3, but having him available at all should help the Sixers as the series moves to New York.

Other notes

Brett Brown and Ben Simmons both had a chance to address a report from The New York Daily News that made some bold claims about the two of them and their future in Philadelphia. Here's how they chose to address the claims:

BROWN: "I am aware of it, I have not read it and I won't, and I have nothing to say about it."

SIMMONS: "I'm not worried about — you're talking about the regular season? Okay, we're talking about playoffs, man. Unless you want to talk about something else, it's playoffs right now." 

Later, as he left the scrum, Simmons joked, "I was out partying with Brett and Monty [Williams]," seemingly in reference to the claim that he missed a game against the Magic after partying the night before.

This reporter has nothing more to add here.

The Sixers dealt with Brooklyn's "top locking" a lot more effectively in Game 2, with JJ Redick and Tobias Harris having more success against Brooklyn than in Game 1. Brown insisted in Redick's case specifically that it was predominantly a product of mentality, not a change in the gameplan.

"I think the combination of some sort of strategy stuff, schematic stuff [was] draped under the vehement approach JJ had that, this isn't going to stop me," Brown said. "I thought JJ's aggressive approach where he didn't accept the top lock, he just didn't accept it. Now there were pieces behind it that I hope we helped him with, but in general, I thought JJ's mentality dealing with that was completely different from Game 1."

Chalk one up for the 'ol "just play harder" strategy.

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