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Isaiah Joe’s trip to rejoin the Sixers was just as hectic as his COVID-19 departure

Joe, who was one of four players to miss time with COVID-19, rejoined the Sixers from health and safety protocols Saturday in Indianapolis.

Sixers guard Isaiah Joe shoots the basketball against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday, November 1, 2021 in Philadelphia.
Sixers guard Isaiah Joe shoots the basketball against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday, November 1, 2021 in Philadelphia.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

SALT LAKE CITY — While the 76ers prepared for the second night of a back-to-back set in Detroit on Nov. 4, Isaiah Joe endured a 10-hour ride back to Philadelphia.

The second-year reserve guard had just lost his sense of taste, prompting a COVID-19 test that came back positive and made him the second of four Sixers players to enter the NBA’s health and safety protocols this month. After about 10 days in quarantine, Joe rejoined the Sixers on Saturday in Indianapolis. He is thrilled to be working his way back into playing shape.

“Just being out of the house, being back around the guys and the team, being able to shoot a basketball again,” Joe said. “It’s never a good feeling being stuck at home with little to do.”

The Sixers have been hit hard by the virus during the past two weeks. Power forward Tobias Harris was first to enter protocols on Nov. 1, before Joe joined him three days later. Reserve wing Matisse Thybulle and All-Star center Joel Embiid went in after that, and both players were listed as out for Tuesday’s game at Utah. A vaccinated player can typically rejoin his team following a 10-day quarantine or when he produces two negative tests in a row 24 hours apart.

Joe spent three days with symptoms, including loss of smell — “that’s the weirdest thing, to be able to breathe through your nose but you can’t smell or taste anything,” he said — chills, chest congestion and a slight headache. He tried to pass the time by playing video games, watching movies and going on random drives. Once his symptoms eased, he started running sprints and longer distances outside, away from other people.

“That stuff only lasts so long,” Joe said. “You still get bored after a while and you’re ready to get after it again.”

Joe’s trip to rejoin the Sixers was just as hectic as his departure.

He was cleared to enter the team facility on Friday night, sending him to Camden for a quick workout before packing his bags. He got on a plane to Indianapolis the next morning with Allen Lumpkin, the senior director of logistics and team relations, then went straight to Gainbridge Fieldhouse for a pregame workout. Though he did not play in the Sixers’ 118-113 loss, he received a warm welcome from teammates.

“As soon as I saw him walk in the locker room, I stopped what I was doing and gave him a big hug and told him I missed him,” said starting point guard Tyrese Maxey, who was in the 2020 draft class with Joe.

Salt Lake City’s altitude makes it “a heck of a place to get in shape” ahead of Tuesday’s game at Utah, Joe said. Though Rivers cautioned any work Joe has done to this point is “still not NBA conditioning … the game’s a different pace,” Joe is pleased with how his lungs and body have responded so far in his recovery.

“I feel like I’m bouncing back pretty quick,” he said. “I’ve been going at it pretty hard these last couple days. ... I thought I was going to struggle, but I’m actually doing really well. That’s a good sign.”

In seven games this season, Joe has made five of his 16 shot attempts, including a 4-of-12 mark from three-point distance. He is averaging two points in 7.7 minutes per game.

And finally, a practice

For the first time since Oct. 19, the Sixers held a formal off-day group practice Monday afternoon.

It was a byproduct of the way Philly’s early schedule broke. Rivers does not typically hold practices unless there is more than one day in between games. The Sixers had played every other day, or on back-to-back nights, for the season’s first 25 days. Instead, the team had been relying on morning shootarounds on game days for group work, and on individual sessions on the days between games.

“We knew it was coming,” Rivers said of that early schedule. “What we didn’t know was we’d have all the injuries and stuff.”

Finally, the Sixers had two days between Saturday’s game at Indiana and Tuesday’s matchup at Utah. They had a day off Sunday following the late-night travel. Monday’s on-court session at Vivant Arena allowed for more “live” full-contact work, for a longer period of time. Several players hung around after the practice for extra shooting and strength and conditioning. Harris, who continues to work himself back after his bout with COVID-19, was the last player off the floor.

When asked about specific areas of focus during the session, Rivers said, “I’m not even going into it. It’s just too much.” Without Embiid and Thybulle, the Sixers’ defense struggled mightily against the Pacers Saturday. Additionally, players whose roles have increased or changed during this shorthanded period have needed to do a lot of on-the-fly learning.

“You’re not solving the world in one practice,” Rivers said. “But you can work on some of the slippage.”

Starting wing Danny Green (hamstring tightness) did not participate in Monday’s practice, Rivers said. He is listed as out for Tuesday’s game on the NBA’s injury report.

Blue Coats’ Harrison on World Cup qualifying team

Shaq Harrison, a guard who played for the Sixers during the preseason and is now with the G League Delaware Blue Coats, has been selected for USA Basketball’s World Cup qualifying team.

The team will train Nov. 20-25 at the University of Houston and then play the first competition window of 2021-23 FIBA World Cup qualifying games in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Other members of the team are Jordan Bell, Brian Bowen, Josh Gray, DaQuan Jeffries, BJ Johnson, Orlando Johnson, Luke Kornet, Frank Mason III, Chasson Randle, Zavier Simpson, and Emmanuel Terry. The team is coached by Jim Boylen, who was the Chicago Bulls’ coach when Harrison was on the roster from 2018-20.