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Doc Rivers faces a tough task in getting the new-look Sixers ready amid pandemic restrictions

If “two of our key guys get the virus, and they miss 10 days or 14 days, that can be eight games in a 72-game season,” the coach said. “That could knock you out of the playoffs.”

Coach Doc Rivers and the Sixers have to play catch-up due to the COVID-19 situation.
Coach Doc Rivers and the Sixers have to play catch-up due to the COVID-19 situation.Read moreMark J. Terrill / AP

The 76ers are already playing catch-up.

Doc Rivers is beginning his first season as the Sixers’ head coach with a new coaching staff. The team has several new players, two of whom can’t join the team until next Tuesday. The Sixers are also allowed to have only individual workouts through Saturday because of the pandemic. Yet the NBA season will begin in three weeks, on Dec. 22.

“It’s a concern,” Rivers said Tuesday. “If I had one concern, it’s that, and I talked to several other coaches. But I know other coaches that have been with their franchise [for a long time] and how easy it is for them.

“Taking a job during this year of COVID is brutal.”

Typically, an NBA season concludes in June with the Finals, and the next season begins in October. In between, there’s the draft in late June. Free agency and the NBA summer league for rookies, young players, and overseas types are in July. Then August and most of September are about relaxation or individual preparation for the season.

However, because of the pandemic, the 2019-20 NBA Finals ended on Oct. 11. The draft was on Nov. 18, with free agency two days later. The individual workout portion of training camp began Tuesday.

Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris – along with reserves Shake Milton, Mike Scott, Matisse Thybulle, and Furkan Korkmaz – are the holdovers from last season.

Added to that, the trade to acquire sharpshooting guard Danny Green, along with Terrance Ferguson, from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Al Horford, a 2025 protected first-round draft pick, the 34th pick of the Nov. 18 draft, and the rights to Serbian point guard Vasilije Micic won’t be completed until next Tuesday. OKC is aggregating salary to make the trade, according to a league source. The Thunder can’t do so until then.

The Sixers haven’t had a chance to be in the gym with their players. As a result, they are going to simplify things as much as possible.

“It’s clearly what I wouldn’t do if it was normal circumstances,” Rivers said, “but it is what it is. Teams like Boston, Milwaukee, and Miami already said that they have an advantage.

“We’re fine with that. We just have to make up the deficit, and we probably have to do it through work.”

Only four players and four coaches are permitted at the practice facility at one time until Sunday. So that will be the first time that some of the Sixers will be together.

In addition to having to play catch-up, there’s the concern of playing during the pandemic without being in the bubble-type atmosphere of the NBA restart in Florida.

» READ MORE: Sixers guard Seth Curry believes he and Ben Simmons ‘are kind of a perfect match’

NBA players are at home with family members and friends. They can order and eat food from whichever restaurants are still open and serving. So there’s that freedom they didn’t have inside the bubble.

“That’s my concern,” Rivers said. “The food is not my concern. I’m thrilled to death about that. But the freedom is a concern. Like, man, I guess I’m very concerned if we can pull this off.”

Ohio State had two Big Ten football games canceled after players tested positive for COVID-19. In the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens game was postponed twice because players tested positive. The game is now scheduled for Wednesday.

“You know the difference in football. They play once a week,” Rivers said. “They have 1,000 players. So you know when you miss three or players, you can still get away with it.”

If an NBA team misses three or four players, it is in trouble, considering teams play three or four games a week.

“So, you know one of our guys or two of our key guys get the virus, and they miss 10 days or 14 days, that can be eight games in a 72-game season,” Rivers said. “That could knock you out of the playoffs.

“So that’s a concern.”

» READ MORE: Furkan Korkmaz looking to put last postseason’s struggles behind him

Rivers thinks every coach’s concern right now is probably not basketball-related.

As for on the court, Rivers guaranteed that the Sixers will run more pick-and-roll plays, with Simmons and Embiid involved.