During his postgame press conference following Monday’s 134-123 loss to the host Utah Jazz, 76ers coach Doc Rivers discussed how well his shorthanded team played in defeat.
The Sixers faced the NBA’s best team, minus center Joel Embiid, who was out with back tightness, and sixth man Shake Milton, who missed his third straight game with a sprained left ankle.
Rivers praised Ben Simmons, who had a career-high 42 points, and Tobias Harris who added a season-high 36 points, and then he spoke of Dwight Howard.
The Sixers’ backup center was forced to play more than normal due to Embiid’s absence, and he responded with his third double-double of the season — a season-high 14 points to go along with 12 rebounds in 26 minutes, 8 seconds. He added one blocked shot and made 5 of 8 shots from the field and 4 of 6 from the foul line.
Rivers explained why that performance was even more impressive than the stat sheet would indicate.
“The unsung heroes, Dwight had a very long, tough day today, he had a death in the family, didn’t come to shootaround, didn’t even show up to the arena until 5:30, 6 o’clock,” said Rivers, who didn’t give any more specifics about the situation. “I assumed he wasn’t playing. ... I told him he didn’t have to play. And he said, ‘Coach I just want to get on the floor, it’s better than just sitting around the room.’ I thought he was phenomenal.”
Howard, 35, now in his 17th season, earned his first NBA title last season as a key reserve for the Los Angeles Lakers. Both Howard and his former Lakers teammate Danny Green are the only players who have appeared in all 28 games for the 18-10 Sixers.
Howard is averaging 16.8 minutes and making the most of his time this season. Howard is third in the NBA in rebounds per 100 possessions, 21.9, according to Basketball Reference. He is second in offensive rebounds per 100 possessions (7.7). Howard is also 23rd in blocks per 100 possessions (2.5).
His veteran leadership and frenetic all-out hustle have been welcomed. His teammates had extra appreciation for Howard on Monday.
“It was great and just showed the type of teammate Dwight is,” Harris said. “I don’t know exactly everything, obviously he was playing out there with a heavy heart tonight. So just the ultimate amount of respect for him.”
Harris, whose team hosts the Houston Rockets (11-16) on Wednesday, then continued to praise his teammate.
“We’re here for him as a team to uplift and to just make sure he’s in good spirits and he is OK, but it just shows who he is as a person,” Harris said. “He is an amazing leader and somebody who cares about the team and cares about helping us win and that just showed in him going out to play. Not many of us thought he was going to play today either and it’s really tough to play (in that situation).”
In Tuesday’s official NBA injury report, Embiid is listed as probable for Wednesday’s game against Houston. Milton is out.
Dante Exum (right calf strain), Ray Spalding (right Achilles injury), and Christian Wood (right ankle sprain) are out for Houston. Eric Gordon (right groin soreness) and Victor Oladipo (right foot strain) are listed as doubtful. In addition, P.J. Tucker is questionable (left quad contusion).