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February 20, 2020

Sixers' Ben Simmons will miss Nets game with back soreness

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Ben-Simmons_012120_usat Wendell Cruz/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons celebrates during the fourth quarter of his team's 117-111 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

Ben Simmons will miss Thursday night's game against the Brooklyn Nets as a result of lower back tightness, the Sixers announced on Thursday evening.

According to Sixers head coach Brett Brown, Simmons first felt tightness in his back at Wednesday's practice following the All-Star break, a long, physical practice that featured lots of scrimmaging.

"It was a long, hard practice and the guys came back great," Brown said. "It was a play where he went up for a rebound and I looked over and he left the court, went and got treatment...we don't believe it's anything too significant."

"But I applaud the practice, the practice was fantastic yesterday, one of the best practices we have had. When you're coming back from an All-Star break, you're never really too sure what to expect, and the guys came back beyond excellent, really focused. And Ben experienced that situation then."

It is the second year in a row the Sixers returned from the break and were forced to deal with an immediate hit to the starting lineup, though losing Simmons for any period of time is unexpected compared to the usual Joel Embiid roller coaster. Simmons appeared in 81 games during his rookie year, 79 games last season, and 53 of the 55 games for Philadelphia so far this season.

Simmons' absence will give the Sixers a rare opportunity to see what the team looks like when they are playing at a slower pace to suit Embiid, which happens with bench-heavy units but only in small doses. Embiid has been able to carry those groups at the ends of quarters, outscoring opponents by nearly 11 points per 100 possessions, with the obvious caveat being they are often going against the weakest lineups for the opponent. Without Simmons around, it will be on Embiid to do the heavy lifting on offense on top of anchoring the defense, and that may necessitate some tweaks to his approach. 

One area of emphasis for Brown is getting Embiid rolling toward the rim harder and more frequently, where he believes he can really hurt teams. Brown is not going to stop his big man from shooting threes, and in fact encourages early attempts when he is in rhythm. But during pregame on Thursday, he referred some of his mid-clock three-point attempts as a product of a "death float," and his desire is to see Embiid get out of the habit of drifting to the line and into the habit of attacking the rim more.

"I want Joel rolling. I want Joel rolling," Brown said. "At times, and fair enough, he may feel like I'm rolling into a lot of traffic, and that could be true, but I want him in this final third [to] just knock people over. You're rolling, and that's your part of the world in halfcourt offense...the pick-and-pop at times he's going to see his man's all the way back, the throwback he's got his rhythm, I don't mind those type of shots.

"It's just very archaic thinking to believe because he's 7'2" he can only go inside. I don't think that's wise. Picking that time, when is it wise, that is a challenge at times."

Brown was cryptic about who would start in Simmons' place and what the full starting lineup would look like, but when asked before Thursday's game, he committed to keeping Horford in the bench role he discussed at Wednesday's practice, even with the Simmons injury caveat.

"I'm inclined more than not to move forward. When I say more than not, it's only driven out of if you're playing against a big/big type team," Brown said. "I want to try to persevere with what you saw against the Clippers...I can say to you honestly I hope to have a solid, consistent type of rotation, but from time to time I think it's going to warrant a deeper discussion."

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