The 76ers’ Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, and Isaiah Joe all remained in health and safety protocols for Tuesday’s game against the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks. But the good news, coach Doc Rivers said, is Harris “is doing a lot better” after testing positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 1.

“Other than that, all the other guys are still where they’re at,” Rivers said during his pregame media availability. “But I would say, just talking to Tobias, he’s the one guy I would say will be back sooner than later.”

Harris, who is vaccinated, can return following 10 days of quarantine or two consecutive negative tests 24 hours apart. Rivers expects the Sixers to proceed with caution when he rejoins the team.

The coach has already thought about how the altitude of Utah and Denver, which are back-to-back stops on the Sixers’ upcoming six-game road trip, could affect Harris’s lungs. Rivers also recalls that it took Seth Curry about a month to return to full strength after contracting the virus last season. Boston Celtics guard Jayson Tatum, who publicly shared that he needed to start using an inhaler after his bout with COVID-19, also told Rivers during the summer that it took him six weeks “to feel even close to normal.”

Both players contracted the virus in January, before vaccines were widely available. Harris may have a quicker and easier recovery from Covid-19 because he has been vaccinated.

“I’m not going to worry about it, but I’m aware of it,” Rivers said of possible lingering effects for any of the players in protocols. “I can’t worry about something that I don’t know is going to happen, but we have our eyes open, for sure. … It just really depends on how it hits each guy. It’s such an individual disease, it seems like.”

Rest and recover

After the Sixers’ rally against the Knicks fell short Monday night, Rivers had already laid out his plans to wind down.

“I’m going to go home and watch Yellowstone,” the coach said. “I missed it [Sunday] night. That’s what I’m going to do, and get some rest.”

It was a needed mental respite for Rivers. Tuesday’s home showdown against the Bucks was the Sixers’ sixth game in nine nights. Then, after a Thursday home contest against Toronto, they leave for a season-long six-game road trip at Indiana, Utah, Denver, Portland, Sacramento, and Golden State. The Sixers have not had more than one day off between games since the start of the season.

That is a taxing early-season stretch for any team. But it’s been particularly grueling for the Sixers, who have been without those four players in health and safety protocols for multiple games apiece. Additionally, starting wing Danny Green missed three games with hamstring tightness, sharpshooter Furkan Korkmaz missed one game with a wrist injury and Curry was out Tuesday because of a foot contusion. The Sixers started Korkmaz, Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton, Paul Reed, and Andre Drummond against the Bucks.

During this period, players have taken extra measures to rest and recover.

Rivers said Maxey, who has played at least 39 minutes in each of the past three games entering Tuesday, had a mandatory “dark day” on Sunday, during which he was forbidden to enter the practice facility for an individual workout. Drummond said his routine has been to “sleep as much as we can,” and ice and compress his knees. Curry, meanwhile, added after Monday’s game that he must “be smart about getting work on the court and not overdoing it.”

Rivers said after Monday’s game that he planned to deploy a 10-man rotation against the Bucks. That potentially presents an opportunity for rookies Jaden Springer, Aaron Henry, and Charles Bassey to get their first legitimate NBA minutes. Springer and Henry were slated to play for the G League Delaware Blue Coats beginning last weekend but were called up to the Sixers out of necessity.

“Just don’t screw up. That’s what you want to tell them,” Rivers joked when asked about the advice he would impart on those three players. “Just tell them to play within their means and play within their role. That’s when guys play their best, when they figure out their role, No. 1. And they’re too young to really know it, because we don’t even know it, yet.

“But then when they can figure that out and be a star in that role and dominate their role, that’s when they become really good players and longtime NBA players.”