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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Sixers Notebook: Long absence raises issues

Posted by Eric Fisher On March 9

Joel Embiid led the Sixers in rebounding in the last eight games he played. In six of those games, Embiid also led the Sixers in scoring.

The problem is that the last game he played was Feb. 13.

Originally estimated as “at least three games,” Embiid’s prolonged absence – eight games and counting – is raising major questions for the 76ers.

Is Embiid’s injury more serious than the Sixers are telling the public? Will Embiid have time to build up his stamina before the playoffs? Can Brett Brown figure out the most effective rotation before the playoffs begin?

The first question is the most important one, both in the short term and the long term. When the Sixers first announced that Embiid would be sidelined due to “left knee soreness,” the indication was that the injury isn’t serious. Embiid also told everyone not to worry. After eight games, however, it’s fair to question whether the injury isn’t more serious than the Sixers and Embiid made it sound.

Players don’t miss eight games with a minor injury. Missing approximately 10 percent of the regular season with one injury is a big deal. Given the Sixers’ history of misleading the public about injuries, concern over the severity of Embiid’s knee injury is justified. And if it’s simply a case of managing his minutes, then concern over the franchise player’s long-term health is warranted.

Let’s assume the Sixers are being honest about Embiid’s injury. That’s a huge leap of faith, but let’s go with it. If sitting out eight games allowed for the exorcism of soreness from Embiid’s left knee, will he have time to regain his stamina before the playoffs begin. There are only 16 games remaining until the postseason. Embiid must rebuild his stamina so that he doesn’t get tired during the playoffs, when he likely will have to play extended minutes.

Even if Embiid is healthy and regains his stamina, there remains another crucial question for the Sixers. How will Brown get all the pieces to fit together in a limited amount of time.

General manager Elton Brand has turned over the roster since the beginning of the season. Gone are Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler. All of these players appeared in the starting lineup at some point this season. Added to the roster were Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, James Ennis III, Jonathon Simmons and Justin Patton. Of that group, only Butler appeared in games prior to February.

Brown had a relatively short time to figure out his rotation. That time frame has been reduced because of Embiid’s injury. A bone bruise and mild strain of Boban Marjanovic’s right knee, which has already kept him sidelined for more than the estimated 5-7 days, further complicates Brown’s task.

Let’s assume that the starting lineup for the playoffs consists of Embiid, Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Butler and Harris. Which players are pushed out of the rotation? In addition to everyone mentioned earlier, Jonah Bolden, T.J. McConnell and Amir Johnson are also in the mix. Which players are most effective when grouped together? Would the Sixers be better with Butler or Redick coming off the bench to provide a spark on offense?

Brown only has 16 games to figure this out. And that’s only if Embiid doesn’t miss a ninth straight game Sunday against the Pacers.

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OFF TARGET: JJ Redick hasn’t made more than half of his shots from the field during the past 10 games. Redick made just 1 of 11 shots Friday during the Sixers’ 107-91 loss to the Rockets. That’s even worse than his 1-for-10 performance during a loss to the Trail Blazers. You can throw in 2-for-9 and 3-for-13 clunkers during this stretch.

The only time Redick reached 50 percent during these 10 games was during a victory over the Magic this past Tuesday. That included 6 for 9 from 3-point range, the only time in the past 10 games in which Redick reached or surpassed 50 percent from 3-point range. He is 20 for 68 (29.4 percent) from 3-point range during this stretch.

Ten games qualifies as a bona fide slump. Perhaps some of the slump can be attributed to Joel Embiid’s absence. Perhaps Redick can’t run his handoff plays as well without Embiid. Another possibility is that Redick is having difficulty to adjusting to the offense with Harris, another terrific 3-point shooter, in the lineup. Regardless of the reason, the Sixers need Redick to get his shooting woes worked out before the postseason.

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NO SHOT: Redick wasn’t the only Sixer who struggled with his outside shooting Friday against the Rockets. The Sixers finished 3 for 26 from 3-point range.

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CENTERS OF ATTENTION: With Joel Embiid and Boban Marjanovic sidelined with injuries, the Sixers have turned to Johan Bolden, Amir Johnson and Justin Patton to fill the void at center. Johnson, in his 14th NBA season, has been inactive so much that he volunteered to play with the Blue Coats, the Sixers’ affiliate in the G-League. Active in four of th e past five games, Johnson has played between 12½ and 20 minutes and averaged seven points and five rebounds.

Patton saw his first action for the Sixers this season during Tuesday’s win over the Magic. He also played during Friday’s loss to the Rockets, although he did not play during Wednesday’s loss to the Bulls. Patton played 18 minutes, 27 seconds during the two games, scoring five points and grabbing five rebounds.

When Embiid and Marjanovic return, it’s unlikely that Johnson or Patton will see much action, although it’s possible that Bolden stays in the rotation. But the Sixers don’t have much choice these days.

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LOSING LEADS: The Sixers lost a 10-point lead during a 108-107 loss to the lowly Bulls on Wednesday. The explanation could be that the Sixers were playing on the road on the second night of back-to-back games. But this wasn’t an isolated incident.

Even when winning games, the Sixers seem to make things more difficult for themselves by losing big leads during the second half. During the past month, the Sixers have lost big leads against the Knicks, Pelicans and Magic – and those were in games they won. They lost to the Bulls and Warriors after holding double-digit leads.

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NO MAGICAL SOLUTION: In case you missed it, the Magic have shut down former Sixers guard Markelle Fultz for the rest of the season due to shoulder issues.

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KEEPING PACE: The Pacers were supposed to collapse after the season-ending injury to Victor Oladipo, their only star. Instead, the Pacers (42-24) have maintained their third-place position in the Eastern Conference. They are still one game ahead of the Sixers (41-25) and two games ahead of the Celtics (40-26).  The Sixers, of course, host the Pacers on Sunday (3:30 p.m.).

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WEST ALMOST SET: With fewer than 20 games remaining in the regular season, the playoff field is almost set in the Western Conference. Playoff seeding is still uncertain, but the Spurs (37-29), who hold the final qualifying playoff berth in the Western Conference, have a four-game lead over the Kings, the first team outside the playoff picture. The next closest teams, the Timberwolves and collapsing Lakers, trail the Spurs by 6½ games. Barring a surge by the Kings or a collapse by the Spurs, Clippers or Jazz, the entrants into the playoffs from the West are set.

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SUPER SUNDAYS: The Sixers’ schedule during the next eight days is bookended by a pair of important Sunday games. The Sixers host the Pacers on Sunday (3:30 p.m.) and then visit the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks next Sunday (March 17). In between, they host the Cavaliers on Tuesday (7 p.m.) and Kings on Friday (7 p.m.).

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