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April 14, 2019

Practice notes: Sixers trying to find a way to manage Joel Embiid's health

The Sixers will have to walk a fine line between resting Embiid and getting him into shape.

Sixers NBA
Joel-Embiid-Sixers_041419_usat Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Sixers center Joel Embiid.

If you were expecting the coaching staff to run the Sixers ragged after a disappointing Game 1 performance, I'd advise you to stop expecting professional basketball to mirror Hoosiers. But Philadelphia's walkthrough-heavy practice on Sunday afternoon was definitely a good thing for one guy in particular — Joel Embiid, whose health may end up deciding their series against the Brooklyn Nets.

The Sixers are in a tricky spot with Embiid, who needs to get into better game shape but can't do that without subjecting himself to more knee pain and a longer recovery time. Philadelphia is fighting a two-front war that is impossible to win on both sides.

"It's a slippery slope," Brett Brown told reporters on Sunday. "We are the recipient of Jo trying to inch along slowly and buy time. You win a game, two more days, you win a game, three more days, you might drop one, four more days. How do you deliver him responsibly to a later date in ultimately what you hope will be a deep playoff run?...it's not as clear cut as you thought it would be on how do you maintain a fitness base and still get his knee rest?"

"What do we do to help him most now? I believe a solid plan is in place that can deliver him responsibly, incrementally to later dates."

That we are at this point on April 14th seems pretty inexplicable from the outside. The Sixers' rest plan following the All-Star break was supposed to deliver a healthy Embiid who was ready to dominate the playoffs. The first question many reporters asked following the acquisition of Greg Monroe was, "Is this a reflection of Embiid's health?" and we were all met with repeated denials from the team.

But here we are anyway, the day after Game 1 of the opening round, with Embiid having only played 24 minutes in a playoff game. And after suffering a defeat in the opener with Embiid clearly hobbled, the Sixers should be preparing for a series which they might have to win without their centerpiece available.

If you're reading between the lines, there was a bit of good news late Sunday when the Sixers decided to list Embiid as questionable for Monday's Game 2. It's not ideal for him to be listed at all, obviously, but that status was determined by how Embiid felt after a day of rest and therapy following a game on Saturday. If he's in a better place than he was on Thursday or Friday, the Sixers will take it.

Now if they could just do something about their actual performance on the floor...

Other news and notes

Ben Simmons laid a gigantic egg in Game 1, and he made matters worse by clapping back at the fans for booing the team during a poor performance. Sunday afternoon, he changed his tune.

"It's Philly, that's what's gonna happen. I mean I love it, that's how Philly is. You can play or you can't, they're going to give you shit and they talk shit, it is what it is," Simmons said on Sunday. "If you're not playing well, they're going to let you know, but I love being here. I love the fans here, I wouldn't want to be in a place where they didn't really care or only showed up when times were going well. A few years ago we were winning 10 games."

I think we can just let this controversy end here. I thought Simmons handled things the wrong way after the game on Saturday, but people say all sorts of wild stuff when they're upset. Simmons impact on Game 2 ranks much higher on the priority scale than whatever his thoughts on booing are.

Jimmy Butler was the first player to meet with the media on Sunday afternoon, and he relayed a message that was agreed upon by everyone who spoke after him. Despite the loss, the Sixers appear to be in relatively good spirits.

Perhaps that's because the Sixers still believe they have the high-end talent to beat anyone when it matters, the Brooklyn Nets included. With some hoping for major changes or responses to what the Nets showed, Butler maintained that if the Sixers simply take care of their business in-house, they'll be okay.

"I would never put anything on the opposing team, only because if we do what we're capable of doing, if we're locked in and worry about ourselves, I think we give ourselves a good chance to win," Butler said. "When you focus in too much on what they bring to the table and what they have and forget about what we have to do, that's when you get in trouble."

Amir Johnson came over and offered another statement on the cell-phone incident that he was fined for after the game Saturday, and I didn't expect anything less. Johnson may be an end-of-bench guy these days and a goofball in the locker room, but he generally takes his role as a veteran leader pretty seriously.

Brown relayed that there was a more important message delivered by Johnson to the team on Sunday morning.

"Amir this morning came in early, knocked on my door and said, 'Coach, I want to be able to speak to the team with the coaching staff here.' And he did, he addressed the team before the day began. In my mind, there's not much more that can be done, we all understand there is zero place for that in our league or our organization.

As with Simmons above, not a whole lot else to talk about here. The basketball side is the critical piece, and the Sixers have a lot of room for improvement there after a Game 1 clunker.


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