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Preview: Tonight vs. the Wizards and the 25 games that follow

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NBA: Preseason-Washington Wizards at Philadelphia 76ers
Dario and Coach
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

We’ve been here before. Mired in the torturous final months of a season that we all wish could just be auto-sim’d to lottery night, we wait for for something, anything, to make the Sixers’ final 26 games bearable. Unfortunately, that something won’t be the debut of Ben Simmons, who today was ruled out for the season due to the insufficient healing of his surgically repaired foot. And there’s a possibility it won’t even be the return of Joel Embiid from a knee injury that has forced him to miss the better part of the last month and a half. That injury will cost him at least four more games, if not more.

This year was supposed to be when it all came together, when process turned to progress, when “this” started “now.” But instead of providing answers, this year has only created more questions. We sit just past two-thirds of the way through the season, and despite a cupboard fully stocked with draft assets, cap space, and young prospects, we still don’t know what exactly the Sixers have and how all their pieces fit together.

Embiid has been nothing short of remarkable this season, exceeding all expectations any reasonable fan had for him. But he’s played in just 31 of the team’s 56 games this year because of back-to-back restrictions and a handful of minor-to-moderate injuries. Simmons looked unbelievable in Summer League, but we haven’t seen him since, and the fact that the Sixers are now dealing with two 6’10”-plus human beings with a history of serious foot injuries is problematic to say the least. And after dumping Ersan Ilyasova and Nerlens Noel at the trade deadline, the Sixers are now left with Jahlil Okafor and Richaun Holmes as their only reserves at power forward and center.

Which leads us to tonight’s game against the Washington Wizards. Without Ilyasova and Noel, who had shared starting frontcourt duties as of late with Embiid out of the lineup, Brett Brown will presumably go with Dario Saric at power forward and Jahlil Okafor at center. Defensively, this is an absolute nightmare, but I’m not sure any other lineup would be reasonable, save for perhaps starting Richaun Holmes at five. I have a feeling the team won’t do that, as the whole point of holding on to Okafor for the final two months of the season is to pump up his trade value heading into the offseason. You don’t do that by starting a second-round pick over him…

On the wing, things should look pretty much the same. Robert Covington will start at small forward, with some of his minutes perhaps coming at power forward in small ball lineups. Gerald Henderson will start at shooting guard, with Nik Stauskas and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot playing the majority of the reserve minutes on the wing until Justin Anderson makes his debut with the team. I would imagine the team will want to get Anderson involved early, and once he’s available it’s possible he eats into TLC’s minutes a bit, unless Brett Brown is willing to sacrifice Henderson’s veteran presence given that he will likely walk this summer in free agency.

At point guard, it will continue to be the T.J. McConnell show. I had assumed expected there to be a deal that sent the expiring Sergio Rodriguez to a playoff-caliber team in need of a second or third point guard upgrade, but alas he’ll remain in Philly for the rest of the year.

Notables

  • The Wizards are basically at full strength currently
  • Chasson Randle was waived yesterday as part of the deal that brought Justin Anderson and Andrew Bogut (barfs) to Philadelphia
  • Bogut and Tiago Splitter, acquired in the Ilyasova trade, are both on the active roster but will not play tonight, so the Sixers have just nine men available to dress