It will be a major early-season test for the 76ers, embarking on a four-game road trip beginning Saturday at Portland. The immediate challenge is playing without Joel Embiid, who was suspended for two games Thursday night along with pugilistic partner Karl-Anthony Towns. That came after the brawl during a 117-95 win Wednesday over the previously unbeaten Minnesota Timberwolves.

So plenty of challenges lie ahead for the 4-0 Sixers.

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— Marc Narducci (offthedribble@inquirer.com)

Sixers forward Tobias Harris gets tangled up with the Timberwolves' Robert Covington in the first half.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Sixers forward Tobias Harris gets tangled up with the Timberwolves' Robert Covington in the first half.

Fighting together

If anybody is looking for a silver lining to the brawl and subsequent suspension of Embiid, it is that the situation showed the Sixers to be a unified team.

As soon as Embiid and Towns began squaring off, the Sixers players on the court immediately went to his defense as bodies flew on the floor.

After practice on Thursday (before the suspension news was known), Sixers forward Tobias Harris was surprised that anyone thought this was such a noble effort by the team.

“We better come to his defense,” Harris said. “If we didn’t, we have a big issue here.”

Harris then talked about the feeling the team had when seeing Embiid squaring off with Towns.

“Yes, that is our brother and our guy, of course we are going to come to his defense and be there and try to de-escalate the situation,” Harris said. “If you are on the team, man, and somebody doesn’t come to your defense, you got to look yourself in the mirror some.”

Ben Simmons, the first to get between the two combatants, expanded on Harris’ statement.

“As a team, we have each other’s backs no matter what, no matter what the situation is,” Simmons said. “... We are not coming out there trying to fight people, at the same time, we are a physical team."

Now the team must pull together without Embiid. It’s already the second time it has happened. He missed the Sixers’ 117-111 win at Detroit with a sprained right ankle.

Starting five

♦ Lost in the situation surrounding the fight was how dominant Embiid was against fellow All-Star Towns, writes Erin McCarthy.

♦ David Murphy suggests Embiid should do less talking and concentrate more on playing.

♦ In an interview I had with Sixers managing partner Josh Harris, he talked about the agony of the Game 7 loss in Toronto and how his organization is using that as motivation.

♦ Here are our ‘best and worst’ awards for the Sixers win over Minnesota, with Furkan Korkmaz in the spotlight.

♦ I write about the warm welcome that former Sixer Robert Covington received Wednesday in his first game in Philadelphia since last year’s trade to Minnesota.

Former Sixers player and current team ambassador World B. Free, shown in his office, will be inducted into the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame. Free was a star at Guilford College.
Marc Narducci/Staff
Former Sixers player and current team ambassador World B. Free, shown in his office, will be inducted into the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame. Free was a star at Guilford College.

Freely scoring

It was great talking to former Sixer and current team ambassador World B. Free the other day for a story on his being inducted into the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame while at Guilford College.

Free was born to score. (He averaged 20.3 points per game in his NBA career). Free scored 2,006 points in just three years at Guilford and came into the NBA firing. He didn’t need much encouragement, but as a rookie with the Sixers, he received prudent advice from Fred Carter, who was near the end of his career.

“Fred Carter said to me, ‘Rook, passers don’t get paid.’”

Michael Jordan paid Free a great compliment about his no-conscience mindset.

“Michael said to me, ‘Thanks, World. You were shooting the ball and were a gunner and we shoot the ball more than you and they call us great players.’ ”

Ben Simmons about to dunk against the Timberwolves.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Ben Simmons about to dunk against the Timberwolves.

Important dates

Saturday: Sixers at Portland Trail Blazers, 10 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia and NBA TV

Monday: Sixers at Phoenix Suns, 9 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia

Wednesday: Sixers at Utah Jazz, 9 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia

Nov. 8: Sixers at Denver Nuggets, 9 p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia

Nov. 10: Charlotte at Sixers, 6: p.m., NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus

Joel Embiid (middle) battling with Karl-Anthony Towns in the paint during the first half Wednesday night.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Joel Embiid (middle) battling with Karl-Anthony Towns in the paint during the first half Wednesday night.

Passing the rock

Question: Without Embiid do you think the Sixers can beat Portland? — Jim from Millville, via email

Answer: Thanks for the question, Jim. I think it is going to be difficult, especially since the Blazers have a rejuvenated Hassan Whiteside, who is averaging 12.8 points and 12.2 rebounds, while blocking 1.2 shots per game.

When you think of Portland, you imagine the great backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Those two will get their points, but the key will be holding others like Whiteside in check. I think the Sixers can win, but without Embiid, I would pick Portland.

Send questions by email or on Twitter (@sjnard)