It’s all about being healthy for the NBA playoffs.
On Friday, the 76ers played without Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, Dwight Howard, and George Hill in their 106-103 victory over an equally undermanned Los Angeles Clippers at the Wells Fargo Center.
Harris and Ben Simmons then missed Monday night’s home game against the Golden State Warriors. While Simmons is ill, Harris is out with right knee soreness.
“This is not load maintenance and we’re not concerned, either,” Doc Rivers of Harris missing his second consecutive game. “It will get better. It’s getting better. We’re just very cautious, especially with him.
“But I’m not concerned, not load management, definitely the knee. I’m just going to let it get right.”
Just like he did with Hill’s right thumb. Monday marked his first game since being acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a March 25 trade. He had to partake in return-to-play workouts before being cleared.
Curry (left hip flexor soreness) and Howard (left knee soreness) were cleared to play after orginially being listed as questionable.
Four Warriors were also ruled out of the game.
Welcome to the home stretch of the 2020-21 season.
Some NBA players like Golden State’s Klay Thompson (right Achilles tendon repair) have been out all season. Others have suffered injuries during what is a grueling 72-game schedule over around 145 days. But there are a lot of elite teams being overly cautious with players with nagging ailments.
The Brooklyn Nets have been the poster children of caution with injuries and resting players for what is expected to be a long postseason run.
And who can blame them?
While the Sixers are the Eastern Conference’s top team, the second-place Nets are the favorites to win the NBA title. However, the joke is that the road to the Finals could end up going through Brooklyn’s training room.
On paper, the Nets (38-19) are the league’s most-talented team.
They boast the league’s most formidable Big Three in Durant, the 2014 NBA MVP, along with 2018 MVP James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. They acquired Harden from the Houston Rockets in a four-team trade Jan. 13.
Brooklyn also later added Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge in the buyout market. As a result, the Nets had six players with multiple All-NBA selections in Durant, Irving, Harden, Griffin, Aldridge, and DeAndre Jordan before Aldridge abruptly retired because of an irregular heartbeat.
Even without him, the Nets are still favored to win the title if healthy.
Brooklyn didn’t appear too concerned when Durant left the game with a left thigh bruise in the first quarter of Sunday’s 109-107 road loss to the Miami Heat. This incident came during his fifth game back after missing nearly two months with a right hamstring strain.
“I think it will just be a day-to-day thing,” Nets forward Jeff Green said of the thigh bruise. “I know he’s bummed that [injuries have] happened frequently over the last couple of weeks and he wants to be out there playing. I’m sure he’s going to do whatever he needs to do to get back on the floor.”
Meanwhile, Sunday marked the sixth straight game Harden missed with a right hamstring strain. Nets general manager Sean Marks said Friday that Harden is “progressing well” and added the guard would need “at least one or two” practice days of scrimmaging before returning to the court.
“He’s met his markers up to this point,” Marks said, “and we’ll just continue to progress him along, and hopefully it’s not too much longer.”
Obviously, the Nets won’t rush players back.
As we learned when they had seven players sidelined for last Wednesday’s loss to the Sixers, they’re more concerned with being healthy for the long haul than with battling for a playoff seed. They didn’t bring Irving back in the game during their fourth-quarter comeback attempt.
The Sixers held on to a 123-117 victory as the Nets were content to play without the seven-time All-Star in a pivotal game. With the win, the Sixers finished 2-1 in their three meetings with Brooklyn. As a result, the Sixers hold the tiebreaker and will get the higher playoff seed if the teams finish with the same record.
Philly headed in Monday’s game 1½ games ahead of the Nets. The third-place Milwaukee Bucks, at 35-21, were four games back.
So the Sixers can afford to pinpoint a game or two down the stretch to rest specific players in preparation for the postseason.
The Sixers and the league’s other top teams want to avoid serious injuries to players and give those with nagging injuries time to heal.
They don’t want to be like the Denver Nuggets, who lost Jamal Murray to a season-ending torn ACL of his left knee on April 12 against the Warriors. The Nuggets (36-20 as of Sunday) are fourth in the Western Conference.
With a limited number of fans in the stands, some teams don’t believe home-court advantage will matter that much in the postseason. They’re more focused on making sure players come back 100% healthy as opposed to securing a certain seed.
But on Monday, the Warriors were the third straight undermanned team the Sixers faced. In addition to Thompson, James Wiseman (meniscal surgery right knee), Juan Toscano-Anderson (concussion protocol), and former Villanova standout Eric Paschall (left hip flexor) were all ruled out.