The Philadelphia 76ers are in no rush to plug Joel Embiid back into the starting five despite reports that he’s rehabbing ahead of schedule from a bone bruise in his knee. They are taking their time with the All-Star big man, ensuring he’s 100% healthy for the playoffs.
It’s the smart decision, especially the way reserve center Tony Bradley is playing right now. He scored 18 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in Tuesday’s win. The former first-round pick (28th overall in 2017) is averaging 14 points and 7.7 boards since taking over for Embiid on March 14.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers has been appreciate of Bradley, as well as the efforts of veteran center Dwight Howard over the past six games. Still, the Coach of the Year candidate knows he can’t win a championship without Embiid on the floor. The team is being extra cautious on hurrying him back, including leaving him in Philly during their five-game West Coast trip.
Why? Embiid can be more productive staying at home and working out in a stress-free environment. Remember, players aren’t restricted by the league from traveling with their teams when injured.
“I just think it’s better served for him to be at home,” Rivers said of Embiid. “Working out with guys, working out with some of our coaches. We kept one of our physical therapists back there to work out with at home. We typically do that.”
The Sixers beat the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, with upcoming road games against the Los Angeles Lakers (March 25), Los Angeles Clippers (March 27), Denver Nuggets (March 30), Cleveland Cavaliers (April 1). They finally return home on April 3. Rivers should have a better update on when Embiid might return by then. The original timeline was two to three weeks.
“I don’t know,” Rivers said when asked about a return date. “I think we said we would check him back in two weeks, and that’s at the end of the week, so we’ll probably have a better update then.”
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Sixers Getting Huge Contributions From Big Men
Bradley and Howard have both been indispensable off the bench. In fact, their strong play has lessened the need for the Sixers to make a deadline deal for another big man. Rivers called Bradley the “star of the night” following the team’s 108-98 victory over Golden State when he went 8-for-8 from the field in 33 solid minutes.
“I just thought he was awesome,” Rivers told reporters after the game. “If I had a star of the night, he would probably be it tonight. I thought Dwight struggled tonight and we needed a lift at that position and when he came back in the fourth quarter, I thought he did everything right.”
Howard struggled a bit in that one. He picked up three personal fouls in 14 minutes while shooting 0-for-6 en route to just two points. However, his overall play in the first half of the season has been stellar and way better than advertised.
“I don’t know what I expected. I never coached Dwight,” Rivers said when asked if he’s been surprised. “I know he’s a different player and person than he was five years ago, and then five years to go past that. I’ve been very happy as far as what he does. The energy that he brings, kind of instigates in games. I love that as long as he keeps himself under control.”
Tobias Harris Keeps Improving, Getting Better
The talk of an All-Star snub fueling Tobias Harris is bordering on dead-horse territory. It might be time to bury it. Everyone who watches the Sixers knows the 6-foot-8 swing forward is the third star in Philly. And some nights, like on Tuesday in San Francisco, he’s the first option. Harris finished with a game-high 25 points and didn’t force a thing. He was arguably the best player on the court.
“What I liked about his game tonight, he didn’t force it, he kind of just let the game come to him,” Rivers said. “And he made plays, not just with his shot but with the pass. Played phenomenal defense.”
The improvements that Harris is making on a nightly basis are intentional, too. He’s been spending extra time in the film room, fine-tuning his game and dissecting his weaknesses.
“For myself, I go back and watch the film, check out spacing, see different plays that could be made out there, and really dissect that,” Harris said. “It’s part of the process of the player, being in those positions, but I’m a guy who wants to master those settings so that’s big for me.”