DALLAS – Right now, it’s about opportunity.
That’s perhaps the best way to look at the 76ers’ extended stretch without Joel Embiid.
The team will play better than people think without their two-time All-Star, who had surgery Friday to repair a torn radial collateral ligament in the ring finger of his left hand. The procedure that typically requires a month of healing followed by several weeks of physical therapy, sports medicine specialists say.
The Sixers suffered a 109-91 loss Saturday night to the host Dallas Mavericks. They have a disappointing 25-15 record and equally unsatisfying fifth-place positioning in the Eastern Conference standings.
They could still climb in the standings while displaying a more uptempo pace without their franchise center.
Al Horford is back at center, his best position. This summer’s free-agent addition from the Boston Celtics will get more touches.
The faster pace without Embiid is better suited for Ben Simmons. Tobias Harris will have plays called for him instead of being mostly positioned in the corner.
The transition defense should also improve, and there should be more time to get another shooter on the court.
But a lot of that will change once Embiid returns.
Like coach Brett Brown often says, the 7-foot-2 Cameroonian is the Sixers’ crown jewel. They can win without him in the regular season. But the Sixers’ postseason success will rely heavily on Embiid.
We’ve come to expect Embiid to be the most dominant player on the court. When motivated, Embiid can get 38 points and 20 rebounds with ease. Just his presence alone will make the Sixers a more dominant team in the postseason, when games are typically played in half-court settings.
Yet, the Sixers are still trying to figure out how to successfully pair him with Horford. They also need to find a way to get Harris more involved while on the floor with Embiid. And they have to figure out a way to deal with the double-teams Embiid often receives due to Simmons’ lack of taking perimeter shots.
Those problems won’t go away. They’ll just resurface once Embiid returns.
The Sixers are aware of that. They’re also aware that they need to fix them once their franchise player returns. The dynamic will change once Embiid returns.
“To be honest, we don’t really look at it like that,” Harris said. “We just look at where we are at [now]. And when Jo comes back, we will adjust.
“But regardless, there’s only one option ahead. That’s to find a way to win as many games.”
Without Embiid, the best way is by playing uptempo and taking advantage of the strengths of Simmons, Harris, and Horford.
In the process, players will be given more opportunities that they wouldn’t have received with a healthy Embiid. Plus, it will allow players to build confidence and get in a rhythm. Players like Josh Richardson, whose 29 points keyed the team’s win over the Celtics on Thursday night
Norvel Pelle is another player who is benefiting from Embiid’s absence.
The reserve center is the team’s best rim protector and lone intimidating defensive post presence with Embiid out. He had six points on 3-for-3 shooting to go with four rebounds and two blocks in 12 minutes, 38 seconds on Thursday.
He will have only four days left toward the maximum number of days (45) an NBA team is allowed to bring up a player on a two-way contract. The plan was to sign him to the 15-man roster or release him after his 45 days. It’s hard to imagine the Sixers releasing him with Embiid sidelined.