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March 10, 2020

Injury update: Sixers' Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson are back at practice

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Sixers center Joel Embiid and guard Josh Richardson returned to practice on Tuesday afternoon, coming one step closer to returning to the court after injury layoffs over the last week-plus.

Embiid and Richardson's statuses for Wednesday's game against Detroit will be updated as of Tuesday's 5:30 p.m. injury report. Getting either back would be a huge lift for the Sixers while getting both would be a shot in the arm for a club in desperate need of defensive toughness as they head down the home stretch.

The Sixers did not offer a lot of information about what both players were able to do on Tuesday afternoon, and head coach Brett Brown insisted it was a day spent more on cardio work and getting a sweat in vs. full-contact basketball.

"It was more of a cardio, get up and down the floor thing than a lot of banging. I think that to just welcome them back and let them play with teammates and put into structure we have — and we've tweaked a few things coming back from the West Coast that Josh didn't play in," Brown said. "It was good to introduce them to a few new things, subtle things, not anything dramatic. I thought just watching them move and be with the team and be a part of that newness in some areas in itself is fantastic."

Embiid did not speak to reporters following practice, and as always, one of the big questions as the big man returns to play will be what condition he has kept himself in during the injury layoff. 

Philadelphia's starting center stayed home from their road trip in order to receive treatment and put in work at the practice facility in Camden, but being in practice shape and game shape are two different things, as Brown acknowledged on Tuesday.

"It's hard to judge with what we just did," Brown said. "When the lights go on and 20,000 people go in front of him, you can better assess. It would be naive for any of us to think he's going to jump back into this thing and be up and down the floor and playing 36 minutes at a very fit rate. I don't expect that. But I do think with the games we have remaining, there's certainly time to get him to a level that he needs to be at."

Richardson, who left last Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers due to a concussion, has been a man in the background since suffering the head injury. Over the last few days, he says he has begun to feel more like himself, with Richardson participating in some pickup basketball on Monday prior to jumping back into a full practice with the team Tuesday.

This is the first time he says he has suffered a concussion in his life, which forced Richardson into semi-isolation for the bulk of Philadelphia's road trip out west. And despite being cleared by the NBA's concussion protocol, Richardson still appears to be dealing with some after-effects of his collision with teammate Alec Burks.

"It's just been weird," Richardson said. "Dark room for a few days, couldn't even go to games, just trying to keep the sensory stuff low and figure it out. Last few days there has been some headaches and that's what has been worrying me, but hopefully, it's over with or close to it."

There is one outstanding injury issue for Philadelphia, as we all await word on next steps for Ben Simmons, who has been out with a back issue and whose status is expected to be updated within the next couple of days. As of this writing, the Sixers have given no indication one way or the other on his prognosis, which is no surprise given the nature of the issue.

Simmons' return (or non-return) will shape how Brown uses the rest of the players he has at his disposal. In Simmons' absence, Brown believes Shake Milton has emerged as, "our clear starting point guard" for the non-Simmons group, and even when Philadelphia's All-Star guard returns, Brown insisted that Milton will be in a "significant" role even after Simmons is back in the lineup.

A more interesting development — Brown expects to start Embiid and Al Horford together as long as Simmons remains out, he told reporters on Tuesday, in an effort to see if they can still get the best out of that pairing with a trio around them that better suits their strengths. And in describing the reasoning behind that decision, Brown gave a subtle indication that they'll continue to be without Simmons for a bit.

"I feel going forward when you don't have Ben, my intention is to play him with Joel and try to grow that," Brown said. "When Ben comes back in the mix, we'll re-evaluate, but I feel like that period of time we're talking about is long enough for me where I do want to invest in the Joel-Al pairing while we don't have Ben, and see how that plays out."

Apply the same logic to this situation as you would any other Sixers-related injury — prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.

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