Al Horford was expected to be the type of veteran player who could help push the 76ers over the top.
While his professionalism has been lauded, his production hasn’t, and there have been well-documented problems with spacing between Horford and center Joel Embiid.
But Horford is needed more than ever now after Embiid suffered a sprained left shoulder Wednesday during a 108-94 loss in Cleveland. The Sixers, in a statement Thursday, said Embiid suffered no significant structural damage and would be reevaluated in about a week.
So it will mean greater responsibility for Horford.
In a 115-106 win Thursday over the New York Knicks, Horford arguably had his best all-around game since Nov. 4, when he had 32 points, five rebounds, and four assists and shot 5-for-8 from three-point range in a 114-109 loss at Phoenix. Embiid missed the game while sitting out the second of a two-game suspension for an altercation with Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns.
After playing 34 minutes Wednesday in Cleveland, the 33-year-old Horford played 33 minutes, 39 seconds against the Knicks, and contributed 15 points, a season-high nine assists, and seven rebounds. He also shot 4-for-4 from three-point range and ended with a plus-12 rating.
Horford is more comfortable playing down low as a center, although his three-point shooting against the Knicks showed he can be effective outside.
During his time in Boston, he became more adept as a three-point threat, shooting 38.2% in his three seasons.
This season he is shooting 33.2% from three-point range, so the results have been below average. According to Basketball-reference.com, the average is 35.7%.
His three-point percentage this season is also below his career average of 36.1%. In his five previous games before Thursday, Horford was 5-for-21 (23.8%).
So if nothing else, he emerged from the Knicks game with confidence. It’s amazing that a 13-year veteran and five-time All-Star could lose confidence, but it has appeared that way at times, where Horford has been thinking more than reacting.
It also probably didn’t help his confidence, that he was dropped from the starting lineup for three games before returning Monday in a 129-112 home win over Atlanta, when Embiid scored a career-high 49 points.
“It was definitely nice,” Horford said after the Knicks game about his three-point shooting. “I continue to work every day on those shots and I stay ready. It definitely felt good.”
The Sixers (37-23) did not practice Friday. They will depart Saturday for a four-game West Coast trip that begins with Sunday afternoon at the Staples Center against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Sixers are on a seven-game road losing streak and are 9-21 away from the Wells Fargo Center. They are 28-2 at home.
With more minutes now available at center, veteran Kyle O’Quinn also became a factor over the last two games.
Norvel Pelle’s absence for two games, the second in Cleveland, with an upper respiratory infection helped pave the way for O’Quinn’s playing time.
Pelle was active but didn’t play against the Knicks.
Before playing against Cleveland, O’Quinn had appeared in only three games in 2020. Against Cleveland, he had six points and two rebounds in 11 minutes, 54 seconds, then added three points and 10 rebounds in 14:21 against the Knicks.
“To see him come in and provide that physical punch after the work that he has put in, I respect him and I appreciate him ... ,” coach Brett Brown said.
It will be interesting to see if O’Quinn will continue to earn the backup minutes.