When Doc Rivers floated late last week that the 76ers could soon begin deploying different starting lineups, the present scenarios are not exactly the circumstances he had in mind.
With Tobias Harris in health and safety protocols and Danny Green out with hamstring tightness, the Sixers on Wednesday night against Chicago started Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz alongside Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, and Joel Embiid, who returned from a one-game absence to rest.
In a way, the lineup fluctuation is an early callback to the preseason, when Harris, Thybulle, and Shake Milton were all injured and Embiid, Curry, and Green took select games off to rest.
The Sixers recorded an impressive home win over Portland while unexpectedly shorthanded Monday night, when Harris became a late scratch to enter protocols about 40 minutes before tip-off and Green left the game in the second half. Korkmaz started in place of Harris. Andre Drummond (14 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, five steals) and Georges Niang (21 points, five rebounds, five assists), who are normally the backup frontcourt players, anchored the Sixers’ 113-103 victory.
Rivers added that switching combinations up during practice and shootarounds have helped his team adapt to such scenarios during games. For example, Rivers said Thybulle was primarily used as a screener on offense against the Trail Blazers “and he was fine with that.”
“You can see the guys aren’t fazed by different groups, different lineups,” Rivers said. “We mix and match so much in practice or in shootaround that I think our guys are starting to get used to that because, again, I think that’s who we are and that’s who we have to be.
“I think it actually helps team-building in a lot of ways, where guys have no problem doing different things.”
Milton working way back
While recovering from a sprained ankle sustained during the preseason, Milton was typically one of the last Sixers on the floor following practices and shootarounds. That habit has continued even after he has recovered and re-entered the rotation. It’s when, after studying film with skill development coach Tyler Lashbrook, Milton will put game-specific work into practice.
“It kind of dictates [what we do] day to day,” Milton said. “But [there’s] always some kind of ‘after’ work.”
It’s also a way for Milton to keep working on his conditioning. After missing the first four games of the season, Milton’s minutes have slightly increased from 16 in his season debut last week against Detroit to 20 in Monday’s victory over the Blazers. That minutes restriction has been “lifted for the most part,” Rivers said, but is now a “lungs restriction.”
“The other day I thought he was gonna die out there,” Rivers said of when Milton finished with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, three assists, and two turnovers against Portland. “So we figured we should take him out. It’s just gonna take him some time.”
Milton was shooting 48.3% from the floor entering Wednesday’s game, including some crafty finishes at the rim and in transition. But the career 37.2% is still looking for consistency in his three-point shot (3-of-11 entering Wednesday).
Teammates remain confident in Milton’s ability to catch rhythm soon. Niang recently called Milton “a walking bucket.”
“The ball seems to leave his hand and find the bottom of the net,” Niang said.