NBA Daily: The 76ers Can Still Secure Home Court Without Embiid

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The Philadelphia 76ers will have to charge toward the postseason without their All-Star center, Joel Embiid.

During Wednesday night’s game against the New York Knicks, Embiid collided with Markelle Fultz and suffered a fractured orbital bone in his left eye, along with experiencing concussion-like symptoms. A source told Basketball Insiders that Embiid underwent surgery to repair the fracture Saturday afternoon. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski later reported that Embiid could return in two weeks following the surgery.

While losing Embiid, for the time being, is a crushing blow the Sixers and their 45-30 record, it’s not the end of the world for the team that’s surprised many with their winning ways this season.

From now until the end of the regular season, the Sixers will face just two winning teams — the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks. The other remaining opponents all possess losing records.

Currently holding the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, and a half game back on the Cavs for the third seed, Philadelphia has the advantage well in hand to keep itself in a favorable position heading into the playoffs despite the uncertainty surrounding Embiid.

In their first test without the Cameroonian star, the Sixers handled the basement dwelling Atlanta Hawks with relative ease. Ben Simmons managed a triple-double in just 27 minutes of playing time, Ersan Ilyasova chipped in 21 points and 16 rebounds off the bench, and Philadelphia eventually reached their ninth straight win when the score went final 101-91.

Following Embiid’s injury, a lot of focus shifted toward the Sixers’ inability to be effective on the court in his absence. This is true for the most part. Without Embiid, the Sixers are 4-8 this season. However, Friday’s contest against the Hawks was the first game Embiid missed since the All-Star break.

In that time, Simmons is averaging over 10 assists per game and committing under three turnovers. If there was a rookie wall coming for him, he’s run right through it. Over that same time frame, Philadelphia has managed to add not only the veteran likes of Ilyasova, but Marco Belinelli as well. These two luxuries off of the bench provide necessary scoring that was severely lacking in the games Embiid missed earlier in the season.

During the month of March, sharpshooter Robert Covington regained his shooting stroke, connecting on 40 percent of his three-point attempts. Dario Saric saw 46 percent of his shots from downtown reach the bottom of the net in that same timeframe as well. The Sixers are in the midst of hitting their stride, and since Christmas have the third-best record in the NBA at 30-12.

Even more impressive, the Sixers are 26-11 at home, winning 19 of their last 20 games at the Wells Fargo Center. South Philly home court advantage has become incredibly apparent for this young Sixers team, and their main course of action as the regular season winds down is holding steady on a top-four seed while they await the return of Embiid.

Although Philadelphia is just a half game behind Cleveland for the third seed, the Indiana Pacers are hot on the Sixers’ trail in the fifth seed, where the two teams are also separated by a half game.

This is where the Sixers’ remaining schedule may help them the most. Of the six games remaining for the Pacers, four are against teams with winning records: the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors and Toronto (the latter two taking place on back-to-back nights).

That’s a tough stretch of four games in five days for Indiana, despite their talent and the success they’ve had this season.

Expecting Philadelphia to win out would be a tall task to request even with Embiid in the lineup, so dropping a few games to winning teams without their best player would be an excusable offense. But as the Sixers showed Friday night in Atlanta, their roster is still plenty capable of disposing of the bad teams that meet them on the hardwood.

What may wind up being the key for the Sixers in their time without Embiid, however, is the last second re-addition of Markelle Fultz.

After missing nearly five months on the basketball court with a shoulder injury and an evaporated jump shot, Fultz returned to action on Monday against the Denver Nuggets. His re-debut yielded 10 points, eight assists, and four rebounds in just 14 minutes of action.

Since then, Fultz has put together two more solid performances, with his most efficient shooting night coming against the Hawks where he made four his eight attempts and displayed a pretty shooting stroke reminiscent of his days in Summer League play. However, Fultz played just 19 minutes in the game, his most since returning.

Brett Brown spoke before the Knicks game about wanting to gradually award Fultz not only more time on the court, but more responsibility as well. If the former No. 1 overall pick wants to get his best foot forward for the postseason, lengthening his leash now that the team is without their go-to scorer may be the best opportunity to do so.

The 76ers’ impressive season is thanks in large part to what Embiid was able to accomplish on the court, and without him, they may not be in such a favorable position to still secure home court for the postseason while he recovers from surgery.

But that option is still very much alive, and should be the only focus for Philadelphia over the next 12 days.