And the Biggest Storyline of the Sixers Season is Now...
…the same storyline from September and October.
It’s Joel Embiid’s health; only this time we’re talking about getting him ready for the playoffs as the Sixers jostle for seeding in a tightly packed Eastern Conference.
Brett Brown has gone on the record several times saying that he prioritizes “delivering” a healthy Embiid to the postseason versus claiming home court advantage, so I threw the question to Twitter this morning to see what y’all prefer:
Assuming you can't have both, pick one scenario:
— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) March 22, 2018
It was 70% to 30% in favor of a rested Embiid when I hit the “publish” button.
That surprises me. I thought home court would win in a landslide.
Of course, defining a “rested” Embiid and a “non-rested” Embiid is an arbitrary exercise. Joel says he feels good and I take that at face value. I mean, he missed some games a few months back after the triple-overtime epic with Oklahoma City, but he’s off the injury report, the wrist and back seem fine, and he’s playing back-to-backs for the first time in his career. He’s come a long way in a very short time.
That doesn’t mean there might not be a cumulative fatiguing of sorts, something different from the day-to-day grind of playing X minutes one night, then X minutes the next night. It’s a macro vs. micro type of situation, I think. Embiid is on pace to play 70+ games, a number that I highly, highly doubt anybody had predicted a few months back. He hasn’t come close to playing this many games at any point of his career.
Brett Brown was asked straight-up last night if he’s going to try to sit Joel at some point down the stretch.
“I think that there will be a game that we do that. We’re always talking about it, and he’s just so ridiculously competitive and he so much wants to please the fans of Philadelphia. I think for us to say that he’s going to play every single one of the remaining games after (Memphis), all 12 of them, is not going to happen. But I bet it comes with a fight.”
That fight was apparent in the locker room after the game, when Joel was asked about the above quote:
“Well, I’m playing in every game. We didn’t come this far to rest me. I was always complaining about playing every game, and in back-to-backs, and I’m sure the fans were, too, so now that we’re here.. I mean, I understand maybe (sitting) the last game before the playoffs, but other than that, I want to play every game because it’s my first chance I’m getting to do it. If I play every game for the rest of the season, I think I’ll be at 71. The goal going into the season was never close to that, not even close to that. I feel good about myself. I’ve been happy the whole season and I’ve been doing my job. I know that when I play we have a better chance to win.”
Beyond health, it becomes a discussion of rhythm and form. Sit Joel for a game and he gets some rest. Sit Joel for two games, does he come back rusty? He seems to think so:
“When I miss a day or two and I don’t really do anything I get out of shape really quick. So being consistent about playing and not missing two or three days I know my body, I’ve learned my body for the past three years. I know my body and I feel like that’s how it works. I want to keep going. Honestly, I’ve been feeling really good, I haven’t been tired so I just got to keep it going.”
If there’s a common ground in the “fight” between Embiid and the Sixers over his spring playing time, it’s agreement from Brown that continuity is important:
“You get into a routine, you get into a rhythm. When you started to listen to some of those great players that I was lucky to be around, too much time off wasn’t desirable. It sounds attractive, but the maniacal ones, especially, you feel like you’re not as well prepared. I think to strike that balance of rest versus rhythm is always a challenge. I don’t think it’s a generic formula. I think everybody reacts to their own body in situations differently. But I think rhythm is something that is as much on our mind as it is the rest.”
Personally, I like the idea of trying to sit him down once or twice in these final 12 games. I think you can scrap maybe a pair of these matchups without worrying about killing his fitness and/or form:
- 3/22 – at Orlando
- 3/24 – Minnesota
- 3/26 – Denver
- 3/28 – New York
- 3/30 – Atlanta
- 4/1 – at Hornets
- 4/3 – Brooklyn
- 4/4 – at Detroit
- 4/6 – Cleveland
- 4/8 – Dallas
- 4/10 – at Atlanta
- 4/11 – Milwaukee
That 4/4 at Detroit, the second night of a back-to-back, looks ideal. The Pistons should be cooked by then and eliminated from the playoff race.
Then, you could ideally sit him down on 4/11 or 4/10, assuming the playoff seeds are locked in, but I just have a feeling this is coming down to the final day of the season. That Milwaukee finale might be the difference between a 4 seed and a 5 seed.
Something else that no one is really mentioning, and his was brought up by a guy named Vince who has been a loyal Twitter follower, is the idea that the playoff schedule itself isn’t exactly murderer’s row in terms of demand:
He'll have plenty of rest IN the playoffs. The NBA builds in longer than usual waits for the TV contracts. Look at last year's games. Let's get that 4 and he'll be fine.https://t.co/VxjoLJKx2O
— Vince Piotti (@vincepiotti) March 22, 2018
And the only reason the Sixers’ back-end schedule is clumpy is because of the goofy London game. They’ll actually have more time between games in the postseason itself.
For example, the Jazz and Clippers went seven games in a 4/5 matchup last year, a series that was played over the course of 18 days:
- 4/15 – game one
- 4/18 – game two
- 4/21 – game three
- 4/23 – game four
- 4/25 – game five
- 4/28 – game six
- 5/2 – game seven
They had two-day breaks between games one and two, two and three, and five and six. They had three days off between games six and seven. It took almost three weeks to play a full series.
Similar situations in the east, too, where Milwaukee and Toronto played a six game series from April 15th to April 27th and the Wizards and Hawks played six from the 16th to the 28th.
Plus, it’s the regional playoff setup, so the Sixers aren’t going to be playing in Philly, then hopping a plane to Denver, then going right up to Portland. Two games in one place, then a short flight to or from Indy or Milwaukee or Cleveland or whatever for games three and four. This isn’t some six game, two week west coast road trip.
All things considered, I think they’re in a good spot right now. These are good problems to have. We’ll see if there’s some separation in the east in the next week or two, but I doubt it happens.