SAN FRANCISCO — The 76ers and Golden State Warriors will both be undermanned in Tuesday night’s game at the Chase Center.
The Los Angeles Lakers are playing without LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant hasn’t played since Feb. 13.
Injuries and the threat of them are just part of the NBA, especially this season when teams are cramming 72-game schedules over 145 days because of the pandemic.
One would assume that’s concerning to Doc Rivers, whose Sixers, if healthy, have a legitimate chance to win the NBA title.
But the coach is not being more cautious.
“I think we rest them in the particular ways that we do; we would have done that in any year,” he said. “And like LeBron’s injury would have happened in any year, a guy [falling] on his leg. There’s nothing you can do about it. [Sixers center] Joel [Embiid] went down wrong, backwards almost. There’s nothing you can do about that.”
The coach notes that he can’t protect guys from injuries as far as decisions on playing them. He said he tries to give them the proper amount of rest and hope their bodies are in great shape.
“But once they get on the floor, it’s not a lot you can do,” Rivers said.
Embiid will miss his sixth straight game Tuesday night with a bone bruise in his left knee. The four-time All-Star center, who is not on the road trip, is expected to remain sidelined for another week or two.
He landed awkwardly after dunking the ball in a road game against the Washington Wizards on March 12. His knee bent back, obviously in the wrong direction, as he hyperextended it.
Meanwhile, the Sixers are also without shooting guard Seth Curry, who sprained his left ankle in last Wednesday’s home game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Curry did some light shooting at Tuesday morning’s shootaround. The team says he’s progressing well. His status for Thursday’s road game against the Lakers will be provided by Wednesday’s reporting deadline.
The Warriors (22-21) will be without Curry’s older brother and two-time league MVP Stephen Curry. He’ll miss his third straight game because of a tailbone contusion. The Warriors are also without Klay Thompson (right Achilles tendon repair) and Marquese Chriss (fractured fibula). Thompson has been sidelined all season.
James suffered a high ankle sprain while colliding with an Atlanta Hawks player in Saturday’s game at the Staples Center. Meanwhile, Davis hasn’t played since Feb. 14 against the Denver Nuggets with a right calf strain. And Durant is dealing with a left hamstring strain.
Durant is one of the Nets’ three All-Stars. There’s a chance Brooklyn could play without all three in Tuesday’s game in Portland against the Trail Blazers. Kyrie Irving is out for personal reasons, while James Harden is questionable with neck soreness.
The Nets (29-14) were one game behind the Sixers atop the Eastern Conference standings entering Tuesday’s action.
Two goals for contending teams are staying healthy and playing at a high level once the postseason begins in late May.
One has wonder whether teams are focused more on keeping players healthy over obtaining the best possible seed. For instance, the Sixers could rest players and settle for the second or third seed as opposed to risking injury by playing key players down the stretch in an attempt to get the top seed.
The Sixers’ championship odds will depend heavily on Embiid’s health. The same can be said about the Lakers with James and Davis and about the Nets with Durant, Irving, and Harden.
Is the league a long way from when the 1996 Chicago Bulls set a then-regular-season record of 72-10 before winning their third consecutive NBA title?
Rivers, a former NBA player, remembers that Bulls team taking key players out early in a couple of their losses.
“The one thing we all know is there’s no team that’s going to win if their two best guys or one of their two best guys are out,” he said. “That’s just the bottom line.
“Clearly you want to be healthy, but you also want to be in rhythm. You want to be playing well. I look at the team I coached last year [the Los Angeles Clippers]. My two guys [Kawhi Leonard and Paul George] were healthy, but we had zero rhythm. We hadn’t played together all year.”
The lack of rhythm led to the Clippers’ disappointing second-round playoff exit.
“So you’ve got to be playing well,” Rivers said. “The best team that’s playing the best in the playoffs is going to win. So you have to have them both.”