Just when the Philadelphia 76ers had returned to some semblance of a normal roster Thursday in their blowout win over the Miami Heat, we were hit with this latest bit of disheartening news:
#Sixers center Joel Embiid did not travel with the team for the two-game road trip to Memphis and OKC with right knee pain. Mike Scott (right knee soreness) is also not on the trip.— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) January 15, 2021
The team is downplaying the absence and making it out to be more precautionary than anything, but you never want to see “Joel Embiid” and “knee pain” in the same sentence, especially just 13 games into the season. Embiid has been playing at an exceptionally high level this season and vaulted into the forefront of the MVP conversation, but those hopes could be dashed by his age-old enemy, his own body.
With Scott also out and Seth Curry remaining sidelined due to COVID-19, the Sixers are down three of their opening-night 10-man rotation. Fortunately, the recent roster shortages have allowed some of the fledgling Sixers to spread their wings. Tyrese Maxey caught everyone’s attention with last weekend’s 39-point explosion, but proved he wasn’t a one-hit wonder by scored 15 or more points in the subsequent three games as well. Isaiah Joe has scored at least 12 points in each of the past four games, hitting a combined 15 3s. Then, not to be outdone by the rooks, third-year guard Shake Milton dropped 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting Thursday, showing no rust whatsoever after missing three games due to quarantine.
On the other sidelines, whereas the Sixers are a little concerned about the health of one of their stars, the Memphis Grizzlies might have some good news regarding one of theirs. After missing a few weeks with a Grade 2 ankle sprain, last year’s Rookie of the Year Ja Morant could make his return to the court tonight. Morant was listed as questionable for last night’s game against Minnesota, before the game was postponed due to Wolves star Karl-Anthony Towns testing positive for COVID-19 and the team not having enough available players due to contact tracing. With another night of rest, Ja would seem to have an even better chance to return to action tonight against the Sixers.
In Morant’s absence, the Grizzlies have been doing their best to tread water, actually currently riding a three-game winning streak to work up to 5-6 on the season. Longtime favorite of Sixers Twitter Tyus Jones has filled in admirably at point, averaging 5.7 assists against just 1.1 turnovers per game. Jonas Valanciunas continues to enjoy life in the Memphis, averaging 14.9 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. With Embiid out, it will be imperative that Dwight Howard tries to cut back on his fouling some while battling with Valanciunas down low.
Without Joel for this road trip, you would love to see Ben Simmons channel the spring of 2018 and show the Sixers fan base it isn’t the end of the world that he’s still here and not James Harden. We’ll see if he and the rest of the Sixers can churn out a victory in the Grindhouse.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Memphis Grizzlies
When: 8:00pm ET
Where: FedExForum, Memphis, TN
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Philadelphia: Joel Embiid - out (knee); Mike Scott - out (knee); Seth Curry - out (COVID-19); Furkan Korkmaz - out (groin); Vincent Poirier - out (medical and safety protocols); Ben Simmons - probable (knee)
Memphis: Jaren Jackson Jr - out (knee); Justise Winslow - out (hip); Jontay Porter - out (knee); Killian Tillie - out (hamstring); Ja Morant - questionable (ankle)