Just as they were before COVID-19, the Sixers display glimpses of their pre-season potential — but remain inconsistent in putting it all together.
They showed flashes of brilliance with an encouraging comeback against the Portland Trail Blazers, yet lost in the end, as their defense during the NBA restart gave up another 50 points to an opposing player.
And probably the most important and unfortunate of all, a cornerstone superstar injured himself — again.
“I was just telling you how much I can’t take any more of this,” NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Alaa Abdelnaby said to fellow broadcaster Marc Zumoff on Sunday’s telecast. “It’s just one thing after another — the big fella out now. … Ben and his woes.”
The Sixers have three “seeding games” left before the playoffs begin. They can finish with no worse than the sixth seed in the East, which they presently are — one game behind the fifth-seeded Indiana Pacers and fourth-seeded Miami Heat. They can finish no higher than fourth.
In other words, they’re not playing for much before the postseason.
They’ll either face the Boston Celtics, Miami or Indiana in the first round. Each of those teams present unique challenges. And, quite frankly, with how inconsistent the Sixers are — Embiid or not — it really doesn’t matter who they play.
They also don’t have the traditional home-court advantage.
Regardless of the condition of Embiid’s ankle, it may be best to limit his minutes or sit him entirely this week. It’s a difficult balance that Brown recognizes for not only Embiid, but for other key players, like Tobias Harris and Al Horford.
“You want an honest medical assessment of anything that equals a potential problem (that) you just want to avoid,” he said. “And, landing the plane and entering the playoffs from this sort of vision line of a bubble, and time off, and tip-toeing on pins and needles where you don’t want people to get injured, and still find a rhythm — that’s a slippery slope.”
Despite losing another franchise player, the Sixers still almost stole one against Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Carmelo Anthony. They trailed by 17 in the first half, yet rallied back to lead by six with 4:23 left in the fourth.
“It’s not positive, honestly, like we were kinda nervous hoping it wasn’t too bad,” Josh Richardson said of Embiid. “But honestly, you never want any of your teammates to get hurt, but when it’s your best player, it’s definitely a bigger hit, so we just tried to pick the slack up for him.”
Richardson certainly did that by dropping 34 points on 13-of-20 from the floor.
Despite his valiant effort, along with Alec Burks — who scored 20 off the bench — the Sixers will need Embiid in the postseason to have any prayer of proving naysayers wrong.
Three decisions must be addressed if they want to move forward: First, the Sixers need to announce the severity of Embiid’s ankle. As of Monday morning, the team has not.
Second, they need to make a decision about how to treat the last three “seeding games.”
And third — based on however the Sixers approach this week — is finding a way to balance staying sharp and staying healthy, before these games ramp up to another level.
The fun of the NBA Playoffs begins in a week. However, this is a crucial week for the Sixers to make sure they’re as ready as possible, without losing more key players for an undetermined amount of time, like they did Simmons.