ATLANTA — Doc Rivers is eager to see what his 76ers can do in the second half. At the same time, there’s concern about their tiring schedule.
“I look at our team and though we are leading the East, I think we also have the most room for improvement,” the coach said. “That gets me excited when I think about our team.”
The Sixers (24-12) are scheduled to play 36 games over 67 days once the second half begins Thursday. They’ll have nine back-to-backs, with three sets per month in March, April, and May.
Fortunately for the Sixers, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid appear to be fine after being exposed to a Philadelphia-area barber who tested positive for COVID-19. The team was notified of this late Saturday night. The duo needs to continue to test negative for five consecutive days before rejoining the team.
That could put them on pace to play in Thursday’s road game against the Chicago Bulls. The incident kept the two out of Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta.
The Sixers will return from the All-Star break on Wednesday. They’ll be at a huge disadvantage if Simmons and Embiid are unable to play at the start of the second half. After facing the Bulls (16-18), the Sixers have a road game the next night against the Washington Wizards before hosting the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.
Despite both having losing records, Chicago and Washington (14-20) are now playing well. The Bulls won six of their last nine games, while the Wizards are 8-3 over their last 11 games. It would certainly help to have both Embiid and Simmons available.
Embiid averages 30.2 points per game and is the leading candidate for league MVP. Meanwhile, the multifaceted Simmons is the front-runner for defensive player of the year. He’s also averaging 22.2 points over his last nine games.
“We start on the road, back-to-back games, with one practice,” Rivers said. “That’s a challenge in itself, right? Then, obviously, not having those guys, that’s a lot of points, our two best defenders. So, obviously, it would hurt.
“But listen, we would show up and we would try to win both games, I can tell you that.”
The games, however, are going to come faster and more furious than what was a whirlwind of a first half. Teams will be fortunate to have even five or six practice days during the second half.
“I would say [this] is not the way I wanted it for our team, you know, being so young,” said Rivers, in his first season with the Sixers. “We are really young, actually look at the guys that are playing. To cut off practice time for a young team is usually not good.”
The Sixers will try to use their shootarounds as practices, but Rivers thinks players will miss some games during the grueling schedule. He’s also concerned about the players’ health while rushing through the final 36 games.
“We often talk about health and protocol,” Rivers said. “But health and protocol is rest, too, and play. So yeah, I’m concerned a little bit.”
NBA All-Star COVID-19 results
All of the players, coaches, and game officials for the NBA All-Star Game were tested for COVID-19 three times after arriving in Atlanta on Saturday. Their final test was immediately before Sunday’s festivities. Each of the tests returned a negative result, confirming no one on the court for Sunday night’s event was infected. In addition to the All-Star Game, there were the annual skills challenge and the three-point and dunk contests.