The Philadelphia 76ers limped into the shutdown when All-Star Ben Simmons was sidelined with a back injury.
Simmons was able to rest during the long layoff since March, and he’ll enter the first game completely healthy as the Sixers (39-26) play the Indiana Pacers (39-26) on Saturday night near Orlando.
Before the NBA restart, Sixers head coach Brett Brown shifted Simmons from point guard to power forward. Regardless of what position Simmons will occupy, he’s ready to compete again.
“I’m feeling good, I put on a lot more muscle, just ready to go,” said Simmons, who has produced six triple-doubles this season.
“This is kind of like a resetting point. I was able to get pilates in almost every day, lifting weights and taking care of my body and getting back to 100 percent.”
The Sixers, currently the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, were a league-best 29-2 at home and just 10-24 on the road when the games halted.
It will be fascinating to see how the Sixers fare in the NBA bubble with no real home-court advantage.
“I’m pretty confident in our group, how we’ve been playing and how we’ve been practicing,” guard Tobias Harris said. “So, we’ll just look to ride off that.”
The Sixers will advance as far as All-Star center Joel Embiid carries them. Embiid, who missed the Sixers’ final two scrimmages with a strained right calf, is expected to start against the Pacers.
Embiid missed 21 of the team’s 65 games before the shutdown with a variety of injuries but averaged 23.4 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 blocked shots per game.
As the Sixers prepare for the playoffs, they’ll need a healthy Embiid to advance.
“I am always receiving news from my medical staff, but that is my expectation,” Brown said of Embiid starting against Indiana.
The Pacers hold the No. 5 seed because of a 2-1 series edge against Philadelphia.
But Indiana has some troubling injury issues, most notably to Domantas Sabonis, who left the bubble and will not play with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
A first time All-Star, Sabonis’ absence will be noticeable.
“We’re trying the treatment every day,” Sabonis said. “We’re trying to get the pain down. The main goal is to get it away, but with an injury like this, you don’t know how long it can take.”
Myles Turner also missed Thursday’s scrimmage and Victor Oladipo missed 52 games with knee and quad injuries. But Oladipo practiced Thursday and Friday and could potentially play against the Sixers.
“Coming down here, getting some practices in, getting my feet under me, going out there playing with the guys, there’s a possibility that I could play,” said Oladipo, who’s waiting until Saturday to make his decision about whether to play.
For several weeks, Oladipo seemed convinced that he wouldn’t be healthy enough to play. Now with Sabonis sidelined, Oladipo’s presence would be a major lift.
“After coming down here, reassessing every day out there playing 5-on-5 with these guys, moving around, doing basketball-related things like rebounding, change of speed, changing ends of the floor, running … I’m trending in a positive direction,” Oladipo said.
–Field Level Media