Shorthanded 76ers face challenge against Bucks

NBA Basketball

The Philadelphia 76ers’ difficult stretch will continue in the second leg of a back-to-back on Thursday night.

With several starters out, the Sixers suddenly have become vulnerable. They will try to avoid a three-game losing streak when they visit the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Sixers (39-19) received 38 points and 17 rebounds from Joel Embiid but fell 116-113 to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. To be fair, the Sixers played without Ben Simmons (illness), Seth Curry (hip) and Tobias Harris (knee).

It’s unclear whether these three starters will be available against the Bucks.

“I have no idea,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said.

Rivers said he didn’t expect Simmons to travel with the team to Milwaukee.

“He’s not feeling great,” Rivers said.

Rivers has been a head coach long enough to understand that in a marathon regular season — especially one played during a pandemic) — every team goes through a series of games with illness and injuries.

“It is what it is,” Rivers said. “You’ve just gotta go through this.”

If the three starters aren’t healthy and Embiid’s minutes are reduced, the Sixers still have plenty of talent. Danny Green scored 18 points, Tyrese Maxey 14, Furkan Korkmaz 12 and George Hill 11 against the Suns. Matisse Thybulle went scoreless but was stellar on defense, highlighted by three blocked shots and a pair of steals.

“I guess the incentive, when you look at the Milwaukee situation, is if you win (Thursday), you have a chance to play for the season series, but if guys are not healthy, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Rivers said.

The Bucks (35-22) hope to avoid a third straight loss when they host Philadelphia.

In their most recent game, the Bucks fell 128-127 in overtime to the Suns on Monday. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points and eight rebounds, Khris Middleton added 26 points and seven rebounds, and Jrue Holiday had 25 points and eight assists.

Antetokounmpo suffered leg cramps and sat out the final four-plus minutes of overtime. Middleton, who has developed into an All-Star-caliber player the last two seasons, stepped in and nearly catapulted the Bucks to a win.

“I was able to get to my spots for some of those shots,” Middleton said. “Teammates and the coaching staff have the confidence in me to take some of those tough shots because I’ve hit ’em before.”

When Antetokounmpo limped to the bench early in overtime, he was unsure what was wrong.

“At the time you don’t know, you don’t know what it is. It might be a cramp, it might be a strain,” Antetokounmpo said. “Just feel like, sharp pain in your calves and then your muscle tightens, tighten up. No, I didn’t know right away it was a cramp. But when I got there, they gave me some fluids, they gave me some things that help with a cramp, and after the game I stretch, did some soft tissue, feel good.”

Donte DiVincenzo, who was a standout at nearby Villanova, had nine points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. DiVincenzo had missed the previous two games with a sprained right toe. He’s expected to be available to play against the Sixers.

–Field Level Media

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