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January 09, 2021

How did the Sixers end up with seven usable players vs. Denver? Doc Rivers explains

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Doc_Rivers_Hornets_Sixers_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers.

In the fallout of Seth Curry's positive COVID-19 test on Thursday, the Sixers will play the Denver Nuggets massively shorthanded, barely clearing the requirement of eight eligible players for an NBA game. But even that overestimates Philadelphia's active roster at this point — Mike Scott is one of those eight players, and head coach Doc Rivers said before the game Saturday that Scott would be unable to actually give it a go as a result of a knee contusion that has kept him out for the past week.

"We have eight active players," Rivers said Saturday. "One is one that been injured and Mike Scott that I can tell you now there's no way I'm gonna play him. I just don't think he should play. So, you can make a case we have seven bodies to throw out...I have a list here that I've not even looked at of players, and so we're gonna throw them together and, you know, Dwight Howard is gonna play point guard tonight, and we're gonna see how it goes."

Five players on Philadelphia's roster — Seth Curry, Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, Vincent Poirier, and Matisse Thybulle — are listed as out due to health and safety protocols. The source of the contact tracing/COVID-related issue appears to be a meeting the Sixers had together recently, which Rivers characterized as a breakfast they shared together. Rivers seemed to be confused as to how/why the league ruled the way they did because of how they set up for dining together as a team.

"We do the whole three at a table, four at a table with the big tables, but I guess even that's too close," Rivers said Saturday. "I don't know, I don't get that whole part."

How did the Sixers reach the point where they had a COVID-positive player on the bench without knowing it? It's a function of the way the testing procedure works, according to Rivers. Curry's initial rapid test on Thursday was negative, and the Sixers also go through what Rivers called "the big test," where the players' noses and mouths are swabbed and results are a fair bit slower. The Sixers have people on standby, Rivers says, so that the team is able to react as soon as results come in.

But with the unexpected positive for Curry, the Sixers had a long and winding 36 hours after their loss to the Brooklyn Nets. The Sixers did not arrive back in Philly until about 1 a.m. Friday after going through a full day of quarantine, contact tracing and testing in New York City, and then the planning process began for the potential of playing Denver on Saturday. On the phone with his coaching staff, Rivers said he was up until about four in the morning on Saturday, and then the team went through a walkthrough that he wasn't able to be a part of because of calls he needed to be on with the league office.

That brings us to now, less than an hour before tip off. With Furkan Korkmaz (abductor strain) and Terence Ferguson (personal reasons) out with seemingly unrelated issues, the Sixers were already down seven players, and then there were two late additions to the scrap heap for Philadelphia. Ben Simmons (left knee swelling) and Joel Embiid (back tightness) were ruled out late in the process, with injuries that had not been previously disclosed in any previous reports.

Embiid, who was one of the players listed as questionable on Friday evening due to health and safety protocols, was previously reported as cleared for today's game by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The late injury diagnosis will raise some eyebrows at the league office, but Rivers insisted Saturday nothing foul was afoot. The head coach nonetheless was clear when asked if he thought the Sixers should give it a go on Saturday.

"I don't think we should," Rivers told reporters. 

In any case, the focus for Rivers immediately turns to how he can get through Saturday's game (and potentially the next week or more) with such a depleted roster. Expressing confidence in the league's COVID-related protocol, Rivers noted that his biggest concern at the moment was the toll these games will have on a shorthanded roster, with low-minute players likely to be forced into 40+ minute roles for Philly.

"I'm more concerned with health on the floor. We're gonna play players tonight that haven't played a lot of minutes," Rivers said. "When you got seven bodies, someone's gonna have to play 40 plus minutes, and that's not just for today that's long-term health, you know with the accumulation of games, it's the numbers we want to stay away from with our players. I'm actually more concerned about that than I am actually about COVID. And I am concerned about COVID, I think everybody is, the league is, and everyone else is as well. It's a lot of stuff going on."

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