SALT LAKE CITY — Joel Embiid missed another matchup against an elite center.
Embiid was a late scratch for Monday night’s road game against Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz with what the 76ers called back tightness, capping a wacky turn of events in regards to his playing status.
The All-Star center, who is being touted as an MVP candidate, was listed as questionable for Monday’s night game.
However, Sixers coach Doc Rivers said Embiid participated in Monday’s shootaround. He also expected him to play in the 134-123 loss to Utah at the Vivint Center.
“I didn’t know there was an issue,” Rivers said during pregame. “So as far as I know, he’s going. Yeah.”
But Embiid ended up taking the night off, with Mike Scott starting in his place. A source said Embiid makes the decision on whether he’s able to play.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, the games he has missed, for the most part, have come against teams with elite centers.
Gobert was second in the NBA in blocked shots (2.8 per game), third in rebounds (13.4), and fifth in field-goal percentage (.634) heading into Monday’s game. The two-time NBA defensive player of the year was expected to provide the stiffest individual test for Embiid.
In the last two seasons, Embiid has shot 19 of 48 (39.5 percent) when Gobert is on the floor, and 12 of 35 when Gobert is the closest defender.
This marked Embiid’s sixth game missed this season with either back tightness or right knee pain. He also missed head-to-head matchups against standout centers Andre Drummond (Cleveland Cavaliers), Nikola Jokić (Denver Nuggets), Jonas Valančiūnas (Memphis Grizzlies), and power forward Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers).
Due to load management, Embiid is going to miss games. But Rivers was asked if there is a concern that the games he has missed have all come against elite centers.
“That’s a hell of a question,” Rivers said. “No. He’s just a late scratch. I mean, obviously, I thought there were no issues with Joel. I thought he’d play. And then they came to me and told me his back was still stiff.
“So I don’t think this is a long-term issue or anything like that. I think it’s just a game miss.”
Danny Green said the Sixers’ losses to the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns were sort of a wake-up call after coasting a little bit.
Rivers didn’t get the sense.
“Nah, I mean we’ve got to play better obviously,” Rivers said before Monday’s game. “No doubt about that.
“The Portland game, we were in it. ... The Phoenix game, we were in it. But I don’t know. ... Maybe Danny calls it coasting. I’m not sure.”
Sixers began their road trip with a 119-111 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 9. They followed that up with a 107-106 loss to the Blazers on Thursday before losing by 120-111 Saturday to the Suns. The Jazz were their fourth and final opponent on the West Coast trip.
But after Saturday’s loss, Green noted that the Sixers were eager to face Utah.
“We learn a lot more from losses,” Green said. “So I guess we will have a lot more motivation ... I won’t say easier, but it’s better going into a building like that with a chip on your shoulder, a little more of an edge.
“So I think these wake-up calls are much needed. Just coasting through, thinking we are going to win the game, because we’re the 76ers, with the best team record in the East —that’s not going to happen.”
On Monday, the Sixers were also without sixth man Shake Milton, who suffered a sprained left ankle late the victory over the Kings. This was the third game he missed.