KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The 76ers must prepare for a postseason run without Ben Simmons.
The two-time All-Star is leaving the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World to undergo surgery in the coming days to remove a loose body in his left knee, the team announced Saturday. The loose piece was found after he suffered a temporary partial dislocation of his left kneecap Wednesday against the Washington Wizards.
The Sixers have not ruled out Simmons’ return this season, but they would have to make a deep postseason run for that to happen. That’s perhaps why the team is preparing for the playoffs as if the 6-foot-10, 248-pounder won’t be available.
Al Horford will continue to start in Simmons’ place.
The five-time All-Star finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 assists in Friday’s 108-101 victory over the Orlando Magic.
“You can’t help but feel an emerging Al Horford,” coach Brett Brown said after the win at the HP Field House. “It’s clear he understands that we need him more than we ever have needed him.”
The thought was the Sixers’ championship hopes would hinge heavily on how Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Tobias Harris performed this season. Even then, it appeared that winning a title was going to be a long shot for the underachieving team.
The Sixers (42-27) are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with four seeding games remaining. They have been unimpressive while winning three of their first four games in the NBA restart against undermanned opponents. The NBA playoffs begin Aug. 17.
Now, Horford, starting point guard Shake Milton, and backup point guard Alec Burks have to step up.
The Sixers’ move of Simmons to power forward from point guard last month was one of the most talked-about stories of the NBA restart.
Brown wanted the ball in his hands after opponents’ missed shots. Simmons’ role was to get to the rim and dunk or find another shooter.
Brown also wanted Simmons taking off without the ball after opponents’ made baskets during a more slowed-down pace, with Joel Embiid inbounding the ball.
Milton and Burks are more combination guards than traditional point guards.
Milton was impressive as the starting point guard during the final eight games before the NBA shutdown in March. Simmons was out back then with a pinched nerve in his lower back.
Burks had arguably his best performance as a Sixer on Friday.
He finished with 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting — including a game-high three three-pointers — to go with four rebounds, two assists, and a turnover in 27 minutes, 31 seconds. The 29-year-old, who was acquired in a trade from the Golden State Warriors in February, excelled in the pick-and-roll.
“It’s hard to replace Ben,” Horford said. “He does a lot for our group. The way that we are looking at it is we all just have to step up a little bit more.
“It’s going to give opportunities to the bench and other guys to come in and have an impact.”
Horford doesn’t know when his teammate will return.
A loose body means a piece of cartilage or bone was ripped off during the injury and is floating in the knee joint. Doctors scope the knee to remove the piece.
Typically, the cartilage that’s damaged is a non-weight-bearing surface. Healing could take a couple of weeks, because the surgery is basically a cleanup job. From there, the player would start his return-to-play process.
Of course, the doctors could see others things inside the knee while performing the operation. That could extend the time to return.
Even if they don’t find anything else, one could argue that Simmons would be better off not returning this season.
To have surgery and then come back and play in the bubble, where games are scheduled about every other day, could be risky. Simmons might better use this time to prepare for next season’s training camp in November.
Plus, if Simmons returns, he’ll have to quarantine before being available to play because of the pandemic.
If a player is out seven days or fewer, he must quarantine for four days upon his return to the bubble, provided he has a negative test each day he’s outside. If a player is gone longer, he must quarantine for four days if he has a negative test for the final seven days he was gone. If the player doesn’t have the required testing, he must quarantine for 10 days.