All season long 76ers coach Brett Brown has touted Ben Simmons as a first-team all-NBA defensive player. That reputation will be tested Saturday night when the Sixers host the Los Angeles Lakers at the Wells Fargo Center.
His assignment will be, for the most part, LeBron James, who was just voted to his 16th All-Star game.
It’s not every day where one gets to see a 6-foot-10 point guard (Simmons) defending a 6-9 point. James, who has always handled the ball, has been playing point guard almost on a full-time basis this year.
James is averaging 25.2 points and is leading the NBA in assists per game, averaging 10.8.
Simmons has played at such a high rate that he might also get defensive player of the year votes. A big game on national television (ABC) could do wonders to boost Simmons’ defensive profile even further.
“Time and time again (Simmons) is guarding five-men, point guards, and (making) steals and rebounds, that is the type of stuff he is doing,” Brown said after Friday’s practice. “To have the challenge of (guarding) arguably the game’s greatest player and I say that with complete, sincerity, what a challenge again, what a further test."
Guard Josh Richardson, who suffered a left hamstring strain in Wednesday’s 107-95 loss at Toronto and will be evaluated in approximately two weeks, is a key loss at both ends of the court.
Richardson no doubt would have spent some time guarding James if healthy. From a defensive perspective, Brown said he will likely give rookie Matisse Thybulle more playing time.
“If you are asking defensively, my answer is to give Matisse more minutes,” Browns said.
Thybulle is averaging 4.9 points, but 1.5 steals in 19.7 minutes per game.
Don’t be surprised if Thybulle spends some time guarding James.
On the offensive side, Brown talked about using Shake Milton to fill the void left by Richardson. Milton played a season-high 22 minutes and 31 seconds against Toronto. He scored nine points.
Horford gutting it out
In last Saturday’s 90-87 win over the host New York Knicks, forward-center Al Horford suffered a sprained left hand.
He admitted to being sore that night and has experienced pain since, but hasn’t missed any time.
Horford’s presence in the lineup is needed even more with Joel Embiid out due to a torn ligament in his left ring finger.
Horford participated in individualized workouts Friday and will be available against the Lakers.
“I am doing all right,” he said. “It is nice to get two days in between games and that helps. I will be good to go (Saturday).”
In the two games since the injury, Horford has averaged 13 points and 8 rebounds in 31 minutes.