The 76ers have had practice dealing with undermanned rosters.
They’re going to have to lean on those experiences in the coming days, if not a little longer.
The Sixers (5-2) will be without starters Tobias Harris and Danny Green in Wednesday’s matchup against the Chicago Bulls at the Wells Fargo Center. Harris, who is vaccinated, will miss his second straight game due to the NBA COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Meanwhile, Green is sidelined with left hamstring tightness.
Harris took a PCR test on Tuesday and was awaiting the results Tuesday night. A vaccinated player only has to take a test if they are symptomatic or were in close contact with someone who has tested positive. Harris was both. If he tests positive, he could be sidelined at least 10 days.
Assuming Green’s hamstring tightness is actually a strain, he could be out anywhere from a couple of days to two weeks.
On a positive note, Joel Embiid will return Wednesday after missing Monday’s 113-103 home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. But the Sixers will be down two starters as they head into the first game of a back-to-back with Chicago and then possibly against the Detroit Pistons.
Seth Curry and Tyrese Maxey will join Joel Embiid as the team’s opening-day starters in the lineup. And that’s misleading, considering Maxey is starting because disgruntled point guard Ben Simmons is mentally not prepared to play.
In Harris, the Sixers will be without their second-leading scorer at 19.8 points per game. They defeated the Blazers on a night when Harris and Embiid didn’t play and Green left in the third quarter. But the competition is expected to be tougher Wednesday night.
That’s why the Sixers are fortunate Andre Drummond and Georges Niang have proved to be vital offseason additions.
Niang’s role on the team could expand, assuming Harris is sidelined for 10 days.
After playing back-to-backs on Wednesday and Thursday, the Sixers will face the Eastern Conference first-place Bulls (6-1), again, in Chicago, on Saturday. Then they’ll have back-to-back home games against the New Yorks Knicks (Monday) and Milwaukee Bucks (Tuesday) before hosting the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 11.
So Niang could be someone the Sixers will depend on heavily during that stretch.
Meanwhile, Drummond is a solid backup and an insurance policy for Embiid and his sore right knee.
“It’s funny. This summer, we had two pickups and no one talked about them,” Rivers said of the two free-agent acquisitions following Monday’s game. “Everyone that was around me, I kept saying we have two really good pickups that nobody [mentioned] in Drum and Georges.”
That’s no longer the case.
Niang is posting career highs in points (10.7 per game), assists (1.9), three-point shooting (43.2%), and minutes (19.9) through seven games in a reserve role.
His 21 points Monday were three shy of his career high set last season with the Utah Jazz.
“Georges is just a heady player,” Rivers said following Monday’s game “He is a four, but he can play the five. He brings the ball up a lot, which helps our offense.”
The 6-foot-7 power forward’s ballhandling takes the pressure off point guards Maxey and Shake Milton. Niang is also constantly moving without the ball. In addition, he plays with toughness. All those things combined has made him an early fan favorite.
Make that an early fan favorite along with Drummond.
While with the Detroit Pistons, Drummond was known as Embiid’s nemesis. So some questioned how he would deal with — and be received — playing behind the Sixers’ franchise player.
Drummond is enjoying the opportunity. The fans are equally enjoying his presence based on the ovation he received while being subbed out of Monday’s game in the third quarter.
His athleticism, speed, and rebounding ability make the 6-foot-10, 280-pounder a steal at the NBA veteran-minimum salary.
“When he’s rebounding, he sprints, and the picks, there’s no bigs that can run with him,” Rivers said.
Drummond is averaging 6.7 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 assists in the first season not being a full-time starter since his rookie campaign in 2012-13.
However, he’s grabbed 17 and 15 rebounds in two of his six games played. Those 15 rebounds came on Monday when Drummond also finished with 14 points, 7 assists and 5 steals starting in place of Embiid.
His season-high assists stood out the most.
“That’s just something that has been apart of my game my whole career,” Drummond said. “They are using me the right way here. It’s something I’m very good at. I find guys because the defense pulls in when I do roll [to the basket], because I roll hard. So I’m able to make that next pass to the shooters.”
His ability to do that, along with Niang’s impact, will be key in the coming days.
And if Harris is out an extended time, the Sixers have to hope Harris doesn’t have any lingering effects upon his return.
Last season, Curry had a tough time regaining his form following a 14-day hiatus in January, after clearing the COVID-19 protocols.