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Sixers head to Brooklyn as COVID issues loom large over pro sports

The Sixers look to snap a two-game skid.

NBA: Preseason-Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a rough draw tonight on the second half of a back-to-back for the Sixers. After the Heat came to Philly and hit three-point shot after three-point shot in a 101-96 win, the Sixers are now tasked with heading to Brooklyn for a meeting with the top-seed Nets. Not great!

Here are my four observations ahead of this evening’s matchup:

- Are we headed for another pro sports shutdown due to COVID? The Bulls-Pistons game on Tuesday night was postponed. Chicago might have to start Benny the Bull at some point. It’s a big issue for the league when the reigning Finals MVP is missing time because he’s entered health and safety protocols. The same could be said of three-time scoring champ James Harden.

The Nets themselves had seven players in health and safety protocols, Harden included, when they played the Raptors on Tuesday. Kevin Durant played in that game despite being questionable to suit up with right ankle soreness. If he didn’t, Brooklyn wouldn’t have had the requisite eight players needed to play an actual game. Yikes!

The NBA isn’t the only league facing this issue. The NHL saw Tuesday night’s game between the Minnesota Wild and Carolina Hurricanes postponed. The Calgary Flames added 17 people (seven players, seven support staff members and three coaches) to the NHL’s COVID protocols yesterday. The NFL’s Washington Football team has 18 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list. They play the Eagles on Sunday in Philadelphia. I could honestly see the game getting pushed back!

I’m trying to be neither hyperbolic nor hysterical. Given that the NFL is headed for its postseason push, I can’t see them skipping any games, but could the NBA and NHL pause play with the hope of things getting cleared up for their own playoff runs? If players continue to be held out through the holidays at their current rate, there will be ample pressure on commissioner Adam Silver to make a concrete ruling on whether to halt the season.

- Two of the most famous basketball players in the league haven’t played a minute this season. Those dudes’ teams are facing off tonight, but it feels increasingly doubtful that Ben Simmons and Kyrie Irving will ever play for their respective squads again. The galaxy brain move is to suggest a Simmons-for-Irving swap. I enjoy it purely from a chaos perspective as someone who covers the team, but Irving continuing to not play while remaining unvaccinated isn’t something that would change in Philly. Simmons probably hits the court for Brooklyn though, right? I can’t imagine President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey is in a rush to trade Simmons to an Eastern Conference Team though. Hell, he doesn’t appear in a rush to trade him in any regard. This is the type of wild trade that would happen in, like, 1998. 2021, for a myriad of reasons, is nothing like 1998.

- When will Tyrese Maxey get the respect he deserves from referees?!? He dropped 27 last night, but it should have been even more with additional trips to the free throw line that were warranted.

- The Sixers beat the Nets in five games in the 2019 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. These were the starters for the two teams the night of the Sixers’ Game 5 win:

Sixers: Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid

Nets: D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jared Dudley and Jarrett Allen

Whether it’s because they’re on different teams, hurt or, just simply not playing, only two of those players will start tonight: Harris and Embiid. This is the modern NBA! I don't mean that as a slight. It’s just the reality of a league where championship windows can open and close before teams even realize that they might’ve missed their shot at a title. That 2019 squad was the best of this era of Sixers basketball. That really sucks.

Ended that one on a bit of a downer, but here’s hoping for a bounce-back performance at Barclays!

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