Sixers receive good news on injury front
PHILADELPHIA >> On a night when the court was unplayable, a rarity in the NBA, there was some good news to come out of the Sixers camp Wednesday.
Joel Embiid’s minutes are up, to 28 per game, Nerlens Noel is a little closer to practicing with the team and actually playing, while No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons is making strides from the broken right foot he suffered in the preseason.
The only better news would have been that all three have been cleared to play, but when you have four wins and most of the positive news involves injury updates, you take what you can get, especially on a night when a scheduled game had to be postponed.
Embiid had a CT scan Monday on his twice surgically repaired right foot that forced him to sit out two seasons, and the results were positive enough that the Sixers brass decided it was time to add four minutes to his restricted playing time. How Sixers coach Brett Brown will use those minutes is still up in the air.
Playing in back-to-back games is still out of the question. That has not changed. And
how Embiid will be used if the game goes into overtime or double overtime has to be worked out. The 28-minute limit could be bumped up a little bit in those situations.
“There’s some wiggle room there,” Brown said.
So the gloves have not come completely off with Embiid. The Sixers are still treading cautiously with their prized first-round pick from the 2014 draft, with is fine with Embiid. Of course, Embiid will have to wait until Friday night’s game against the Orlando Magic to see the increased playing time actually come to fruition after, but he was happy with the news.
“I’m going to make the most of it,” Embiid said.
Four minutes make not seem like a lot. It’s one extra minute per quarter, which is nothing in a 48-minute NBA game, unless you look at the numbers as Brown has. Embiid is averaging 18.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks while playing 22 minutes a game. But it’s more than that Embiid’s individual numbers.
“We are the secondrated defense team in the NBA when he is on the floor,” Brown said. “We go to 30th when he’s not so just using that as an example makes your head spin a little bit. Those extra four minutes are significant in my eyes.”
And so will be the return of Noel, who has not played since he had surgery to deal with inflammation in his left knee. The Sixers sent the 6-11 power forward/center to the Delaware 87ers on a rehab assignment Wednesday and worked out with the Sixers’ D-League affiliate.
Brown said there is no time table for Noel’s return. Noel will be back with the team Thursday, although Brown was not sure if the big man would practice with the team. Noel is scheduled to go back to the Sevens Friday.
“Slowly, he’s becoming a part of everything we do with weights and film sessions,” Brown said of Noel. “We’d like to have him on the court and it seems like any day now.”
Noel and Embiid went one-on-one at the team’s practice facility the other day, Brown said, and it was quite a sight that only the team got to see. Simmons was involved, too, but in a limited capacity. Simmons was on a stool on the sideline, sending post feeds to both big men.
“You would have gotten a kick out of it,” Brown said. “I’m sure it would have erupted on Twitter if it ever got out. It would have gone viral. Those three together, watching them, bringing Nerlens back in and having Ben be a part of it. I look forward to that.”
The extra minutes for Embiid and the potential return of Noel does present a bit of a problem for Brown. There is already a logjam on the front court. Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric and Robert Covington average 21 or more minutes per game. Power forward Richaun Holmes averages 16 minutes per game.
Where does Noel fit in? How much does he play? Those are all questions that have to be answered. He could be traded. Noel’s name has popped in numerous trade rumors on the internet.
“It’s a good question,” Brown said. “All I have is this, and I’m fine with this, you will reward competitors. You will reward performance. You’re going to reward certain matchups. It’s all I have. You can dance around a bunch of things. It won’t be easy and people are going to have to accept different things.”
As for Simmons, Brown has specific plans for the first overall pick.
“My intention is to give him the ball and let him be the point guard,” Brown said. “That’s the plan. That doesn’t just happen. It takes a little time.”
Sam Hinkie called it “The Process” before he was shown the door and yes, it does take time, as Sixers fans know all too well. They have waited patiently for this team to come together and the picture of what this team will look like down the road is starting to come into view.
Joel Embiid, left, tries to get around Cleveland Cavaliers’ DeAndre Liggins, center, and Kevin Love on Sunday.
Sixers’ forward Ben Simmons is progressing well from his broken foot suffered in the preseason.
Nerlens Noel may soon begin practicing with the team in anticipation of his return.