Injuries, sickness, fatigue, and limitations are all part of the NBA's grueling 82-game season. Few are immune to setbacks along the way.
The Sixers will no doubt have their share of problematic situations as the season moves along. They've already been playing with a depleted bench. Injuries to Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless, Richaun Holmes, Justin Anderson, and Nik Stauskas have forced Brett Brown to stick with a tight rotation.
So far, the Sixers' starting unit has done its job. But on Saturday night, the Sixers were hit with the first gut punch of the season. Ben Simmons, dealing with swelling in his left elbow, missed his first game of the season with Orlando in town.
Then the uppercut — Joel Embiid had a cold. The Sixers' star center finished with an 18-point, 14-rebound double-double but was noticeably limited. He fatigued early and didn't have the same bounce in his step.
Missing one of their most impactful players in Simmons and not knowing whether Embiid would be able to play after he spent the day in bed could have led to the Sixers' biggest letdown of the season. But the rest of the team answered the call.
The Sixers scored a season-high 130 points, handing Orlando its eighth consecutive loss. Not only did the Sixers prevail in point production, they did so on 35 assists with a season-low 11 turnovers. Every Sixer who played (save for the final garbage-time minutes) contributed to the win.
"I think that we're learning how to play with each other," Brown said after the game. "We had some different lineups on the floor tonight … and we still found a way to navigate our structure and stay organized."
T.J. McConnell, who started in place of Simmons, finished with 15 points, 13 assists, and seven rebounds for his sixth career double-double. He set the pace for the game, pushing the ball in transition and slowing down when necessary.
JJ Redick tied his season-high mark with eight made threes for a game-high 29 points.
Dario Saric went just 1 of 4 from beyond the arc but did not let his miscues from deep deter him. He went 7 of 9 elsewhere on the floor and finished with 21 points and seven rebounds.
Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless had 14 points each, playing a major role in the victory.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who went just 1 of 7 from the field, used his speed and athleticism when the shots weren't falling. Creating contact near the basket, he was 6 of 6 from the free-throw line.
The team performance shows a maturity in being able to play to individual strengths, recognize weaknesses, and make corrections on the fly. Playing fast, sharing the ball, and stepping up when the stars are out will be paramount for the Sixers.
"I think it just speaks to the culture that we're trying to build that we can just step up and have different guys play our system and play well," Redick said. "There's a personal responsibility to bring it every night, regardless of who is not in the lineup."
Orlando is not a team used to measure a good win against. But the Sixers, not at full strength, needed to see that they are more than just their two biggest stars. They are a team with a multitude of weapons who can win even when their biggest stars are ailing.