The buzz after the Sixers’ big-time weekend win over the Warriors has petered out. The team’s 126-91 loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis drops the Sixers to 15-13 and seventh in the Eastern Conference as of this writing. Here are my three main reactions to tonight’s game:
- The obvious caveat: The Sixers were without their two best players tonight. Though both went through pregame warmups, Seth Curry (right shoulder soreness) and Joel Embiid (right rib soreness) both sat out. Hot take: missing your two best players can have an adverse effect on your squad’s performance! Embiid’s dominance when on the court goes without saying. Curry is having a career year this season. That’ll do a team in.
It’s a Monday night, non-conference road game in December against a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since Henry Sims was on the Sixers. I love the Sixers. They’re both a passion and a job. I’m lucky in that regard. This is just one of those games though where I’m thinking... Why is any Sixers fan with free time watching this? Maybe I would be watching it anyway if I wasn’t “covering” the game with this recap, but I think of the casual fan and not us diseased, internet-brain people. Perhaps that speaks to a larger, league-wide issue. I don’t particularly fault players for resting up and saving their bodies for the postseason. In two weeks, no one would care if Embiid had 32 and 15 tonight. They’ll care if he doesn't reach those numbers in a second round series against the Bucks in May though.
The regular season has never been more deemphasized. The league’s broadcasters spend their entire daily and pregame programs arguing that winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy is the be-all, end-all when determining a player’s legacy, but then expect people to watch a Clippers-Kings game that’s on at 10 p.m. ET on NBA TV. It’s frivolous.
I don’t mind Embiid resting because I’d prefer his body not to break down before the Sixers have a shot at making the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in two-plus decades, but the league brass has set itself up for an issue that I can’t imagine going away.
- Seeing Tyrese Maxey, who dropped 25 points and seven assists, operate as the team’s main scorer was my silver lining. The Sixers’ offense needs to totally become The Tyrese Maxey Show (or do we just call it Maxey like Seinfeld?) whenever Embiid isn’t on the floor. Head coach Doc Rivers has seemed reluctant to give the second-year guard the reins to do so. For what reason? No clue. I can buy whatever benefit a coach with Rivers’ history brings in the locker or in terms of team chemistry, but his treatment of younger players is ripped from an era long ago. Sixers fans are only starting to see Matisse Thybulle inserted into the starting lineup over an experienced vet in Danny Green, which, for anyone who watched the Sixers in their win against Golden State on Saturday knows, is for the best right now.
It took the Ben Simmons situation unfolding the way it did for Maxey to even be inserted into the starting lineup this season. Letting Maxey get those reps and develop his game may allow the Sixers to have a new All-Star guard on the roster without even receiving one in return in an inevitable Simmons trade.
Rivers took Maxey out of the game for good with under two minutes remaining in the third quarter and the team down by 20-plus points. Hey, they punted on the night before things even started with Curry and Embiid were out. Might as well take the most valuable player still in uniform out since it’s a wash of an evening anyway.
- I need a Ben deal to happen ASAP. I speak for many when I say that. Having another star-caliber player or a collection of high-level role players tonight would’ve made a huge difference given Embiid and Curry’s absences. The Sixers still aren’t a complete puzzle even when they do have those two out there as the Simmons saga looms large. It could’ve changed tonight from a thoroughly forgettable regular season game to one where the Sixers grabbed a W that will help them in the playoff picture come April. The NBA’s trade fireworks won’t start until Wednesday when the Dec. 15 date allows for most players who signed new deals this past offseason to be dealt. We’re hours away. We’re in the endgame now. Things were “gathering momentum” momentum just three days ago:
ESPN reporting with @ZachLowe_NBA: Philadelphia's trade conversations on Ben Simmons gathering momentum in recent days. More teams engaged, more two and three-way deal structure talks ongoing as 76ers try to land a Top 25 player for Simmons.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 10, 2021
Let’s regain some of it because the Sixers sure aren’t providing any true momentum on the court itself.