The 76ers’ success will be tied to Joel Embiid.
There’s no denying they will benefit from Ben Simmons’ expected return from a lower-back pinched nerve if the 2019-20 season restarts. Maybe coach Brett Brown has found a way to better utilize Al Horford while playing alongside Simmons and Embiid. And perhaps the Sixers have a better sense of their rotation since the season was suspended on March 11.
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But let’s not get it twisted.
Simmons’ expected return, Horford’s productivity, and a solid rotation are bonuses. The blueprint to the Sixers’ success is Embiid’s health and conditioning. When both are good, the three-time All-Star center is the most-dominant player on the court.
The problem is that his conditioning often takes a hit during extended breaks.
Embiid routinely reports to training camp out of shape. He’s also been known to gain weight whenever sidelined in-season due to injuries.
To his credit, Embiid returned in good shape on March 11 against the Detroit Pistons, after missing five games because of the shoulder sprain. He finished with a team-high 30 points and a game-high 14 rebounds in just 26 minutes, 41 seconds of action, in the 124-106 rout and both teams’ final game before the shutdown. But Thursday will mark the 71st day since he played in that game.
General manager Elton Brand expects to see an in-shape and focused Embiid if this season resumes. While the practice facility remains closed for on-court workouts, Embiid has been permitted access for ongoing treatment.
“Embiid has been working out,” Brand said during a conference call with reporters on May 5. "You know he’s conditioning. He’s focused. He’s asking about when his trainer can come in, when he can get on the court.
“I wouldn’t bet against him. He’s going to be ready and ramped up.”
He’ll need to be. Brown expects Embiid to play close to 40 minutes per game in the postseason.
“My ideal thing is I’d want to play him about 38 minutes,” Brown said during Friday’s Zoom call with reporters. “In a playoff situation as the head coach, that’s my ideal number. In the regular season, you bring him along, and I think 30 was the number where he ended up.”
The 38 minutes would be six minutes more than roughly 32 minutes he’s averaged in 19 playoffs games over the last two seasons.
The expectation is the league might not resume until July, if at all, this season.
Walt Disney World in Orlando, and Las Vegas are the leading possible locations for a 16-team playoff minus fans. Disney is in serious discussions with the NBA and appears to be the front-runner to host NBA teams in a campus-like site minus fans, according to The Athletic.
The league isn’t ruling out resuming the season with regular-season games. Teams in small markets would like to finish the season to secure TV revenue. The threshold to receive TV revenue from regional sports networks is 70 regular-season games.
NBA teams have played an averaged of 64.7 games this season.
But the Eastern Conference’s third-place Celtics (43-21) would face the sixth-place Sixers (39-26) in the best-of-seven opening-round series if the NBA opted to go straight to playoffs.
That would be a good pairing for the Sixers and Embiid. Philly won three of its four regular-season meetings. Embiid averaged 21.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2 blocks, and 27.5 minutes in three games against the Celtics. His best performance was a 38-point, 13-rebound outing in a 115-109 road victory on Dec. 12.
He’s a match-up problem for Boston’s undersized centers.