It’s always something with the 76ers.
Things just don’t seem to go as planned for the team with high aspirations, and this season is no different. First it was Ben Simmons requesting a trade. Then there’s Joel Embiid playing through pain after banging his right knee in the season opener.
And this week, the Sixers suffered their latest major blow with Tobias Harris being placed in the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The team’s second-leading scorer and assist leader has the coronavirus and could be sidelined at least 10 days, according to sources. Harris, who is fully vaccinated, is symptomatic. The 29-year-old is experiencing fatigue and congestion.
Another Sixer starter, Danny Green, is sidelined with left hamstring soreness.
Such is life for the Sixers (6-2), who have gone through stretches with shorthanded rosters due to injuries and illness. They managed to overcome that Wednesday night with a 103-98 victory of the Chicago Bulls at the Wells Fargo Center.
But the Sixers’ best example was last season’s 115-103 home loss the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 9. The Sixers played with just seven players due to COVID-19 protocols and injuries. Green was the lone regular starter while Dwight Howard and Tyrese Maxey were the only other rotation players who played.
They also hammered the Chicago Bulls, 127-105, on March 11 while Embiid and Simmons were in the league’s health and safety protocols. Coach Doc Rivers believes that was the most important regular-season game for the Sixers.
“Then we went on to win the next game in Washington [without Simmons],” Rivers said. “That kind of signaled to our guys, ‘You’re a basketball team, man. You can play everybody and still win games.’ I thought our guys did that.”
And there was a stretch during the 2019-20 season where the Sixers were without three starters from that season: Simmons (lower back pinched nerve), Embiid (left shoulder sprain), and Josh Richardson (nose contusion, concussion).
So the Sixers know what it’s like to be undermanned.
Monday’s 113-103 home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers showed that this season’s team can win without their key players. Harris (protocol) and Embiid (rest) missed the game, while Green (hamstring) left in the third quarter. But that was against a poor-shooting Portland team.
The Sixers’ true tests began Wednesday against the Bulls (6-2) and could continue through their next five games. Rivers said Green is out “at least a couple of games,” while Harris could be out a while.
“Our motto the whole preseason and this season, too, is next man up,” Shake Milton said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup, as long as we are staying strong in our principles and being very detailed about what we do. I think we have a good chance of winning each time we step on the floor.”
But Harris won’t be easy to replace over a sustained amount of time.
Harris is averaging 19.8 points and a team-leading 4.2 assists. He was the squad’s best ballhandler with Simmons out. As a result, the Sixers ran a lot of their half-court offense through him.
He was also the team’s primary scorer when Embiid was off the floor. With Harris out, the Sixers don’t have someone they can count on to stop opposing team’s runs when the All-Star center is off the floor.
“We don’t have the size, the rebounds, and the power,” Rivers said.
The way the Sixers played this season was with great pace and great power. Minus Harris, they’re just playing with great pace. They still have Embiid, but the power comes from having Embiid and Harris.
The Sixers, however, won’t change much in regard to their offense being quick-decision-downhill basketball. They also know they’ll have to be even better defensively.
“We don’t have the margin of error that we have when we had all our players,” Rivers said.
On Wednesday, Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz joined Embiid, Seth Curry, and Maxey in the starting lineup.
The Simmons saga doesn’t appear close to being resolved. He informed Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey that he’s still not mentally ready to play.
Simmons has yet to participate in full-team activities at the Sixers’ practice facility. In addition to receiving treatment, he’s participated in individual shooting drills.
Rivers was asked if enough is enough in regard to dealing with the situation.
“I don’t really think about it,” he said. “I don’t. I really don’t. I coach the guys that are on the floor every day.”
On paper, things are bleak for the Sixers during their upcoming schedule.
After playing the Pistons in Detroit on Thursday, they’ll face the Bulls again in Chicago on Saturday. Then they’ll have back-to-back home games against the New York Knicks (Monday) and Milwaukee Bucks (Tuesday) before hosting the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 11.
But the Sixers will tell you they’ve been here before.
“Guys know that,” Milton said. “Guys recognized that, and I think our leaders do a good job of reiterating that type of stuff in the huddles. So when guys are forced to step up and have an opportunity to play, guys come in ready to play. So I think that helps.”