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March 31, 2017

Sixers shut down Covington and Okafor for rest of season after two more medical missteps

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The Sixers have done quite a bit of losing of the last few years, but that's starting to feel like nothing compared to the number of Ls taken by the Sixers medical staff this season. 

The latest came on Friday when the team announced that both Robert Covington and Jahlil Okafor will miss the team's final seven games as they recover from knee injuries that are actually worse than originally suspected.

This is my surprised face.

Covington, who was averaging 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this season, originally injured his knee on March 11 against the Clippers and did not dress the following night when the Sixers played Lakers. What happened next is simply incredible, but not surprising if you've been paying attention to how their medical staff has handled other injuries this season.

The Sixers forward, after sitting out just that one game, played in each of the team's next eight games, including 44 minutes and 55 seconds in their overtime loss to the Magic – he's played more minutes just once this season and only two other times in his entire career. 

That's right, Covington played almost 45 minutes just four games after suffering what we now know to be a partially torn meniscus. The next game, he played just 25 minutes against the Thunder. Over the next three, Covington averaged 32.5 minutes per game – 28 against the Bulls, 30 against the Pacers and 38 against the Nets, respectively – before being held out of Wednesday's loss to the Hawks. 

Letting someone play through an injury only to have it get worse to the point where you have to shut him down for the season? Why does that sound so familiar?

Oh, wait, that's right. It's almost exactly what happened a month earlier with star rookie Joel Embiid, right down to the type of injury (a meniscus tear). Embiid underwent surgery in Los Angeles last week.

And if you think season-ending surgery is going to be the end of it, think again.

Before being shut down for the season on Friday, Okafor had missed four straight games (and five of the last six) with right knee soreness, presumably the same soreness he's been dealing with on and off throughout the season. That's especially troubling when you consider that Okafor (11.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG) was also shut down early last season due to a knee injury. 

The diagnosis? A partially torn meniscus. 

Okafor underwent arthroscopic surgery, performed by Dr. James Andrews, on March 22, 2016. At the time, much like Embiid's recent procedure, the surgery was said to be "successful." Now, a year later, it seems the second-year center is still dealing with lingering pain in that right knee, so much so that he'll sit out the team's final seven games.

It seems as though a pattern is forming. And not a good one.

These latest two miscues only scratch the surface. The Embiid debacle – allowing him to continue to play through two knee injuries, then listing him as day-to-day for almost a month before eventually shutting him down – is bad enough on its own, given his injury history and insane amount of potential. 

Then there's first-overall pick Ben Simmons, who missed the entire season with an injury many expected to be healed by the All-Star break (and has had to go back for follow-up procedures). 

For those keeping score at home, that's three former top-10 picks – Embiid, Simmons and Okafor –as well as one of the team's biggest contributors in Covington. All in the last six months.

From diagnosis to treatment, nothing seems to be going right for the Sixers medical staff. And no one seems to have any answers. 

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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