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No Embiid: Trouble in Philly?

Frank Franklin II / AP Photo

The Philadelphia 76ers picked up a game four win over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday, eliminating them from the playoffs in the first sweep of this year’s postseason. The series was a hard-fought battle between the two teams, marked with the trademark physicality of the playoffs. And it may have come with a price: Joel Embiid, the team’s MVP candidate and leading scorer, missed game four due to a knee injury. Even with the next round’s matchup undetermined, the Sixers’ coaching staff is preparing to begin the series without their superstar.

For the most part, Embiid has been relatively healthy this season, playing 66 games and averaging 34.6 minutes per game (the latter a career-high). In the sixteen games he missed, the Sixers have an 11-5 record, with seven of those being matchups against playoff teams (5-2 record). While Embiid is in contention for MVP, the Sixers still have managed to hold their own during the season without him. Obviously, they closed out the series against the Nets without their superstar, but a new matchup means new challenges. 

So are the Sixers in trouble? That depends. Will the team be able to win games without Embiid? Who will step up to take the mantle without the Process? Two players come to mind: former MVP James Harden and rising star Tyrese Maxey

Supplementation Of Scoring

It has been very clear that Harden struggled during the Nets series. While he shot the ball well from deep (42.4% from three in 33 attempts), it was clear that Harden was not able to get to the basket as efficiently as he was during the regular season. Harden only made 9 of his 34 non-three-point attempts during the series (26.5%). Harden’s struggles at the rim were a sign of the Nets’ stellar interior defense, who were able to apply pressure without fouling. Yet, despite his struggles scoring, Harden’s passing ability has already played a significant role in the 76ers’ success in the first round. 

The other star in the backcourt, Maxey, has solidified his role as a valuable player this season. This season, the Kentucky guard averaged career highs in points, field goals attempted, and three-point shooting percentage. In the first round, Maxey led the team in minutes played and scoring, including a 33-point performance in game three. Maxey has been shooting extremely well and is a contributor on the defensive end of the ball. In the ten games he played without Embiid, Maxey averaged 29 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 5 assists on 50%/44%/85% shooting splits.

With Harden and Maxey replacing Embiid’s offensive production, other players on the team will also need to step up. Tobias Harris, who averaged 20 points and 9 rebounds, plays an important role in the scoring offense. P.J. Tucker, who has struggled offensively this entire season, will need to be able to hit timely shots and continue to be a defensive asset. De’Anthony Melton has also been a key player that provides valuable bench scoring. 


Whether the 76ers end up facing the Boston Celtics or Atlanta Hawks, they will find themselves battling against two elite frontcourts. A player who could change the tide of the entire series is Paul Reed. The 23-year-old center from DePaul has been utilized as Embiid’s backup. In eight games where Reed played over twenty minutes, he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting 66%. Despite this, Reed struggles with staying out of foul trouble and has, throughout the season, committed some simple mistakes. If Reed continues to build off his game four performance (10 points, 15 rebounds, 5/10), the Sixers could be in good shape for the postseason.

For the Sixers, making a championship run without Embiid will be an uphill battle. Having the extra days of rest before the conference semifinals begin will benefit the Sixers greatly, allowing Embiid more time to recover. While he will likely only miss a few games, one win or loss has a huge effect on a series. If Embiid’s teammates can succeed in his absence, the Sixers can thrive and make a splash in the conference semifinals.

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